The officer on duty during last year’s tragic collision between the Arleigh Burke Class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the merchant ship ACX Crystal entered a guilty plea to a single charge of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice on Tuesday. A violation of Article 92 indicates a failure to obey an order or regulation.
Lt. junior grade Sarah B. Coppock stood before a military judge and a small crowd made up of family members of the sailors that died in the incident as she entered her plea.
“My entire career my guys have been my number one priority,” she said. “When it mattered, I failed them. I made a tremendously bad decision and they paid the price.”
As the officer on the deck during the collision, Coppock acknowledged to the judge, Capt. Charles Purnell, that her actions, at least in part, contributed to the turn of events that led to seven sailors drowning below deck following the collision. She accepted responsibility for violating the standing orders of ship commander Cmdr. Bryce Benson as well as Coast Guard navigation rules several times throughout the night in question, including failing to communicate effectively with the watch standers, failing to operate safely in high traffic conditions, and failing to alert the crew of the impending collision.