Soldier charged in fatal West Point crash quiet at hearing
FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) — An Army soldier charged in a vehicle rollover that killed a West Point cadet kept quiet Wednesday during a preliminary hearing to help determine whether she will face trial by a court-martial.
Staff Sgt. Ladonies Strong declined to make a statement in her defense during a short hearing that revealed no new details on the June 6 training crash that killed 22-year-old Christopher J. Morgan and injured 19 of his fellow cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.
The Article 32 hearing, somewhat similar to a civilian grand jury, was held at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia because Strong is assigned to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division headquartered there.
Strong was charged in September with multiple violations of military law — including counts of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless operation of a vehicle — in connection with the rollover crash on the academy’s training grounds in West Point, New York.
Morgan of West Orange, New Jersey, died when an Army tactical vehicle similar to a large, open-bed truck overturned during a summer military training exercise for West Point cadets in the wooded hills outside the academy’s main gates. It happened on a fire break road as the vehicle was leaving the area where trainees live during the summer.
Some of the 19 injured cadets suffered broken arms and facial abrasions. Two soldiers in the truck’s cab were also injured. It’s not known to what extent Strong was hurt.
Morgan died at the scene. He was a law and legal studies major in the Class of 2020 and had been a standout member of the Army wrestling team.
A 3rd Infantry spokesman, Lt. Col. Patrick Husted, declined to confirm whether Strong was driving the truck when it overturned, as the charges against her suggest. Her role wasn’t discussed at the Wednesday hearing.
Prosecutors and Strong’s defense attorney called no witnesses during the hearing, which lasted less than 20 minutes. That means the presiding officer, Maj. Dennis Hernon, will rely on investigative records and other documents to make his recommendation on whether Strong’s case should advance to a court-martial. Fort Stewart commanders will make the final decision based on Hernon’s written report.
Strong’s Army defense attorney, Capt. Jordan Santo, declined to comment after the hearing.
The Army has released few details about the West Point crash. The charge sheet outlining the accusations against Strong and other documents filed in the criminal case are not available to the public.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and an Army safety team from Fort Rucker, Alabama, had roles in investigating the fatal crash.