Families of service members to sue vehicle maker after fatal accident

·2 min read

The families of nine U.S. service members who drowned in a training accident last year are planning to sue the manufacturer of the vehicle that sank off the coast of California. The Marines have since disciplined 11 service members, including a general, in the incident.

On July 30, 2020, the Marines left the mother ship in the amphibious assault vehicle for a practice landing on San Clemente Island. But the vehicle's transmission failed, the engine quit and the vehicle began taking on water, and it took 45 minutes for help to arrive.

The grief-stricken families held a news conference Thursday and called on the Marine Corps to keep amphibious assault vehicles out of the water until their flaws are fixed. They also announced the lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer, BAE Systems.

Attorneys representing the families claim the company knew about a defective cargo hatch door and never corrected it, CBS affiliate KFMB reported. The families said they hope to force the company to fix the vehicle's defects which led it to sink and then trap the Marines inside.

In a statement to KFMB, BAE Systems offered its condolences to the servicemembers who died but said it could not comment on the lawsuit: "We offer our deepest sympathies to the families impacted by this tragedy and we mourn the loss of the nine service members. We are not in a position to comment on ongoing litigation."

One of those who drowned, Lance Corporal Chase Sweetwood, was just 18. "Why is my son gone? Why was he not kept safe? He died the day before his 19th birthday," his mother, Christiana, said. 

"I don't want another mother standing at the door at 7 a.m. with two casualty officers telling her that her son is missing," she said, according to KFMB. "There's a hole in my family that I can't fix. When they took my son, they kind of took my life."

On the day of the accident, Private First Class Bryan Baltierra texted his father, "our track started smoking." Baltierra joined the Marines at 17 years old and was killed on his one-year anniversary of joining.

"One of the boys who did survive did say, 'When I looked back... I saw Bryan and his roommate Evan Bath at a bench, praying,'" his father, Carlos, said.

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