Originally created 05/26/06

Records on fatal accident released



A bent piece of equipment and a lack of supporting wires led to a tower collapse in which a Fort Gordon soldier was killed nearly two years ago, newly released Army records show.

Spc. Marisa Lau was working on the disassembly of a "semaphore tower" on Barton Field at Fort Gordon on July 20, 2004, when the tower collapsed. Spc. Lau fell from her position 18 feet above the ground and later died of severe head trauma.

An Army report states that the accident was probably caused by a bent davit, or gin pole, used in deconstructing the tower. It also says that temporary guy-wires were not used at the base to keep the tower sturdy. As the tower, used in ceremonies, was disassembled, it leaned, then tipped.

In response to multiple federal Freedom of Information Act requests, a week ago The Augusta Chronicle received a redacted copy of an investigative report detailing the investigation into Spc. Lau's death from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Belvoir, Va.

An initial request made several months after the accident was denied by the Army in February 2005, citing the ongoing investigation. A second request for the records was made in August 2005. The records were sent to The Chronicle on May 9.

The names of all individuals except Spc. Lau were blacked out in the report, in addition to all personal pronouns, including "she" or "he," referring to those individuals. The Army cited the 1974 Privacy Act in making those redactions.

The report states that Spc. Lau was wearing her helmet and was using a harness at the time of the accident.

In the military's investigation, two staff sergeants are listed as subjects of the inquiry: one of them the noncommissioned officer in charge during the assembly of the tower five weeks before the accident; the other, a noncommissioned officer who was in charge during the disassembly.

The report states that the noncommissioned offer in charge of assembly of the tower admitted to "being aware of the bent davit at the time of assembly and disassembly and that he did not report it," in addition to making a false statement earlier in the inquiry.

It also states the noncommissioned officer present during disassembly "admitted to knowing that temporary guy wires were required during the disassembly process and yet ... did not install them resulting in the tower falling during disassembly."

However, no criminal charges were filed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice against the soldiers by the Staff Judge Advocate's office at Fort Gordon.

Marla Jones, a civilian spokeswoman at Fort Gordon, said that if disciplinary action was taken, it was nonjudicial, meaning that the action remains private in the soldier or soldiers' personnel files and cannot be released.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.

TIMELINE


JUNE 2004: A noncommis-sioned officer in charge places a davit used in the assembly of a "semaphore tower" - used for ceremonies at Barton Field on Fort Gordon - in the wrong position, causing it to bend. The Army later alleges that the officer had noticed the bend and put it back into use without notifying anyone else.


JULY 20, 2004: Spc. Marisa Lau, along with other soldiers, falls off the tower. Spc. Lau, of New York, is airlifted to Medical College of Georgia Hospital. She dies that evening of brain trauma.


AUG. 31, 2004: An expert in the assembly and disassembly of the tower tells investigators that he believed the tower was able to collapse because guy-wires weren't put in place.


SEPTEMBER 2004: A report from the 93rd Signal Brigade Safety Office indicates that the accident could have been prevented had the disassembly team used the guy-wires.


JAN. 5, 2005: The noncommissioned officer in charge of the tower's assembly admits to investigators that he told no one of the bent davit, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the tower's disassembly admits to knowing that temporary guy-wires were needed and didn't install them.


JAN. 26, 2005: Investigators inform the Staff Judge Advocate's Office of the investigation, reporting that Spc. Lau's death was the only reported fatality as a result of a tower collapse in the Army. Officials with the Staff Judge Advocate decline to prosecute the soldier in charge of the assembly on a charge of negligent homicide.


FEB. 28, 2005: Investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division is closed and a final report is issued.

Sources: Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office; U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, Fort Belvoir,Va.; staff reports