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Coast Guardsman from Ludington charged with murder

A U.S. Coast Guardsman from Ludington has been charged with murdering a fellow seaman whose body was found along the shore of an Alaskan island, according to the Associated Press.

The Coast Guard reported that 19-year-old Ethan W. Tucker, was charged Wednesday with seven violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Charges include murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 19-year-old Ethan Kelch of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The charges came in the wake of a seven-month investigation, according to a release from the Coast Guard.

The release stated that Tucker has been taken into custody by Coast Guard authorities and transported to the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego where he awaits court martial proceedings.

Tucker has been charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, maiming, obstructing justice, issuing false official statements and failing to obey an order or regulation.

“Since our shipmate’s untimely passing, we have been in contact with his family to provide as much support as possible throughout this tragic and difficult time. The charges today are the result of the Coast Guard’s steadfast desire to gather all the facts and seek justice,” stated Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, public affairs officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area.

If found guilty, Tucker could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge and total forfeiture of pay.

However, the Coast Guard stated that the charges against Tucker are accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at court-martial.

Kelch was found dead Jan. 27 along the shore of an island when their ship, the Munro, was docked in nearby Dutch Harbor. The charging documents state that he died of blunt-force head trauma.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman NyxoLyndo Cangemi told the Daily News that Kelch and Tucker served on the USCG cutter Douglas Munro, and it was based in Kodiak, Alaska. They had a day off with the ship in for repairs at Dutch Harbor, when the alleged incident took place on Jan. 26.

“Both Kelch and Tucker were seamen. They did not have a job specialty. They did inspection, maintenance, stood watch and painting. Stuff for entry-level guys,” Cangemi said.

It’s unclear what the relationship was between Tucker and Kelch, according to the AP.

“As both were seamen aboard the ship, they would have quite a bit of interactions with each other in the duties,” he told the AP.

Tucker is a 2017 graduate of Ludington High School.

According to Cangemi, Tucker joined the USCG on Aug. 29, 2017. He was assigned to the Douglas Munro on Dec. 13, 2017, after boot camp. He was transferred to a Coast Guard base in Alameda, California, on June 4, 2019.

He was assigned to the security division with duties such as checking IDs of base visitors, making rounds with security and maintaining records and logs, Cangemi told the AP.

Neither Kelch or Tucker had access to classified information, Cangemi told the Daily News.

According to the Navy Times in a story published Jan. 29, the Coast Guard was assisted by Unalaska, Alaska, searchers and an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter to look over two islands. Searchers found Kelch on the western side of Amaknak Island, the Navy Times reported, and local responders began CPR before taking him to a clinic. He was pronounced dead at the clinic.

Cangemi told the Daily News that Tucker was charged on Wednesday, and that he will get an Article 32 hearing in two to four months.

“It’s similar to a grand jury hearing,” Cangemi said. “It will be up to the convening officer, Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, to send the case to a court martial.”

Cangemi told the AP that Tucker will remain in custody until scheduled hearings, including a federal court proceeding scheduled for Sept. 3 in San Diego to determine whether to keep him in pretrial confinement or release him back to Coast Guard duties.

In the the military code, the different specifications of a charge mean that different scenarios could have occurred; Tucker has two specifications attached to his murder charge.

“It’s one charge. There’s two specifications. One is an engagement in acts that are inherently dangerous and showed a disregard for life. One is causing blunt force trauma. It’s one charge. There’s different rules and there’s a different burden of proof (to prove the crimes).”

The charges

According to the charging documents, on or about Jan. 26, Tucker allegedly struck Kelch, causing blunt-force trauma to the head, and placed and left him in the water. The document deems this a “wanton disregard for human life.” This incident is reported to have caused “grievous bodily harm,” leading to a subgaleal hematoma, which also accounts for the charges of maiming as well as involuntary manslaughter.

The infliction of the hematoma, as well as an assault by strangulation, account for the aggravated assault charges.

The documents state that Tucker also obstructed justice by misleading rescue personnel who were trying to find Kelch “with intent to impede the due administration of justice.”

The documents also state that Tucker issued a false statement to an Investigative Service Special Agent, claiming that “he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead” after learning of the death of Kelch — a statement that was “totally false.”

Additionally, the documents allege that Tucker violated a general order by “wrongfully consuming alcohol while under the age of 21 years.”

The Associated Press and Daily News staff writer Noah Hausmann contributed to this report.


News
featured
Father-son tandem compete in canoe marathon

At 22, after finishing the 120-mile Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, Steve Belknap looked at his wife holding his two-year-old and eighth month old son’s and thought to himself, “I don’t think I’ll be doing this again.”

Fast forward 40 years later, Belknap, with his now 40-year-old son Steve Jr., just finished that feat again.

“I really didn’t see myself competing again,” said Belknap of Ludington. “After I stopped racing professionally, I never really got out of shape, but just never thought I would be in racing shape again.”

But as Steve Jr. was getting older and older, he was getting the itch to compete in the race, and ended up competing with a college roommate of his two years ago.

“When Steve told me he was going to race I was a little surprised,” Steve Sr. said. “They didn’t train too much so I wasn’t sure how they would do. But they actually finished so I knew that meant I was up next.”

And from then on the training began for the retired racer.

It started with getting up and doing about 200 pushups and sit ups every day followed by a run.

Once he got back into the swing of things, it was time to get back into the water, where he would paddle for 12 miles every morning.

“This stuff isn’t easy to get back into,” Steve Sr. said. “I can tell you this it was a lot easier to do when I was 22.”

Steve and Steve Jr. were even keeping track of each others training on their fitness watches to make sure neither one was slacking.

When race day came, the Belknaps were ready to hit the ground running.

They caught a bump in the road however 15 minutes in when Steve’s paddle broke. Luckily they had an extra in the canoe and just had to wait for the first stop to meet up with their crew team.

“I can’t thank our crew team enough. My race partner from 40 years ago and my son’s partner along with their wives came back to help,” Belknap said. “They were tremendous. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

After a couple more bumps in the water that set them back a little bit, the Belknaps were back on track and making up time quick.

“At every checkpoint you have to make it at a certain time or else they just pull you out of the water,” Steve Sr. said. “Luckily we were able to keep picking up our pace as the race went on to keep us ahead of those marks.”

When the race was nearly done, Steve remembers one specific moment with his son that he’ll treasure forever.

“My son looked back to me as we were passing some of these pro teams that do these races all year long and he said to me, ‘Isn’t it good to know after all these years you still got it?’ That sort of made me choke up a little bit in the moment.”

When asked to compare the two races, Steve Sr. said that they couldn’t have been any different from one another.

“Racing at 22 and 62 is a complete change. There are things I can’t really do that I once could,” he said. “But I’ll just always cherish the fact that after all these years, my son still wanted to compete with me and asked me to compete.

“Besides my marriage and my kids being born, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. “


Notable
Jaycees to host Kindness Rally Sept. 21

Jaycees to host

Kindness Rally

Sept. 21

On Saturday, Sept. 21 from noon to 4 p.m., teams from around the community will enter into a family-friendly competition to see who can do the most acts of kindness in four hours for the annual Kindness Rally.

Teams will be equipped with supplies, shirts and a list of random act of kindness “challenges” that involve helping others and bettering the community.

From cleaning up trash and writing thank-you notes to paying library fines, teams will work to complete challenges and see who has done the most good deeds by the end of the event. Creativity is encouraged, and teams are given the opportunity to come up with some kindness ideas on their own.

The Kindness Rally originated in Michigan by Jaycee member Susan Dials in 2016. Since then, the event has seen tremendous growth. To date, more than 4,450 acts of kindness have been completed through this initiative.

The rally is free to participants. Community organizations, residents and local businesses are encouraged to create and register a team of four to five people to participate along with the Ludington Area Jaycees.

There are also opportunities to sponsor a team for businesses that would like to contribute to the cause but cannot participate.

This year, sponsors can be involved in two ways: either by being a local event sponsor ($200) or a team sponsor ($50). As a not-for-profit civic organization, all donations to the Ludington Area Jaycees will go directly into the community through this project effort.

If any businesses or organizations would like to be a sponsor for this event, they can be purchased through Eventbrite or by emailing info@ludingtonareajaycees.org.

Teams are encouraged to register on Eventbrite by Sept. 9 to secure a spot, guarantee an event T-shirt and help organizers plan for supplies. Teams can sign up at www.ludingtonkindnessrally.eventbrite.com.

The Kindness Rally is completely funded by donations and sponsorships. These contributions help the Jaycees purchase supplies and T-shirts to make sure every interested party can participate.

This event is a part of the JCI International “Peace is Possible” campaign and the U.N.’s International Day of Peace on Sept. 21. Though this project has a wide reach, the Kindness Rally is designed to make a positive impact on people and organizations directly in the local community. In Michigan alone there are 24 communities and counting involved this year.

During The Kindness Rally, teams use social media to showcase their impact and encourage others to pay it forward and spread the kindness. Like and follow @TheKindnessRally on Facebook and Instagram and search the #TheKindnessRally on Sept. 21 to see all the positive change created during the Kindness Rally.

There will be a winner from Ludington, as well as a statewide winning team.

For more information, visit www.thekindnessrally.org or message @TheKindnessRally or @LAJCS on social media.


Local
featured
Committee talks Ludington deer cull for 2020

The deer population within Ludington city limits has been an ongoing topic of discussion, and next year the city council might do something about the herd.

Field research about the deer population in the city was conducted during multiple years by teacher Mark Willis’ Ludington High School advanced placement environmental science class. The research, which used trail cameras at 10 sites throughout Ludington’s wooded areas, determined there was a population of 274 whitetail deer in 2017 and 375 deer in 2018 within the city limits.

With information obtained through the Ludington Police Department, the class also reported that there were 20 car-deer accidents in 2017 and 15 of the collisions in 2018. The class presented these findings to the city council at its May 20 meeting.

During the public comment periods of several meetings, the councilors have heard some residents urge them to control the deer population. People have said deer have been seen on their laws, in their gardens and on the streets.

“The city is the only one who can take any action ... (regarding) the deer population downtown,” Lyla McClelland told the council on July 8. “It is totally getting out of hand. I’m three-and-a-half blocks from Ludington Avenue, and the mamas, the fawns and herds are in my yard almost daily.”

Recently, councilors and other officials discussed the topic at the public safety and utilities committee meeting on Aug. 19, according to the meeting minutes.

The committee heard a report on car-deer crashes from Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett and information about deer culling from Vern Richardson, a biologist from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Cadillac office.

Barnett told the committee that some of the most problematic areas for car-deer accidents are Lakeshore Drive, Bryant Road and First Street near the railroad.

Richardson said his DNR office receives “many calls” from Ludington residents about the deer in the city.

“(Richardson) stated that the cull of deer is a viable option,” and the cull would cost the city from $10,000 to $15,000 per year, according to the minutes.

“(B)ut if the city were to decide to begin the cull, they would have to stick with it. If the city does not follow up each year, the deer population will reduce in a year or two, but the population will come back the following year,” Richardson said, according to the minutes.

If the City of Ludington so chooses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would provide a team to coordinate the cull, Richardson said. The cull would target antlerless deer and doe. The team would harvest the culled deer and donate the meat to a local food pantry.

Willis volunteered to help with the proposed cull.

Councilor Dave Bourgette asked if Ludington’s budget could pay for the expense of deer management for the next several years, according to the minutes.

City Manager Mitch Foster said that he can include the expense in the city’s proposed 2020 budget and the financial planning for subsequent years.

The committee also discussed other options, including deer sterilization, but it was noted that sterilization isn’t a method approved by the DNR.

Foster said he has heard questions raised by residents about what will happen to the deer population inside of the Ludington School Forest when the new elementary school is built.

Willis said about 15 acres of the property will be developed and some of the trees will be thinned. When that happens, the deer will scatter from the area, since the forest is one of the locations where many deer reside, he said.