A sergeant's efforts to awaken his troops led to the death of a District of Columbia National Guardsman during training exercises early Saturday morning at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, authorities said yesterday.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Peeler, 37, allegedly tried to wake the Guardsmen by blowing the horn of a 2 1/2-ton military truck. Instead, officials said, the truck lurched forward, fatally crushing a 21-year-old Guard private who apparently was asleep at the time.
Peeler, a member of the Guard's 275th Military Police Company, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the predawn accident. He was released by a Caroline County magistrate on a $2,500, personal recognizance bond Saturday night and is scheduled to be arraigned May 28 in General District Court in Bowling Green.
County procesutor Harvey Latney Jr. said no other Guard member is expected to be charged in the incident.
Peeler could not be reached yesterday for comment at his District of Columbia home. Authorities said he lives at 139 Elmira St. SW and is believed to work as a pipefitter. "He seemed very upset about the incident," said one person who talked with him afterward. "He even cried during the interview [with military investigators]."
The first detailed account of the incident became available yesterday. It was based on testimony by a military investigator at the magistrate's hearing Saturday evening. According to this account, the incident began at 4:45 a.m. when Peeler was ordered to wake up the Guard troops.
Peeler blew a whistle, but the Guardsmen did not get out of their tents, investigators said. Then Peeler walked to the parked truck, allegedly planning to blow its noisy horn to awaken the troops. The horn, which is operated by compressed air, can only be sounded when the truck's engine is running, officials said.
The truck's driver reportedly was asleep in the rear. The steering wheel was chained to prevent the truck from being driven, investigators found. The truck had been left in first gear and its emergency brake had not been set, authorities said.
Peeler allegedly reached into the cab, turned the ignition switch and pressed the starter button without checking the emergency brake or the gear shift. The truck lurched forward and began rolling down a slight incline, investigators reported.
As the truck gained speed, Peeler ran beside it, trying futilely to pull the brake lever or shut off the ignition switch, according to the military investigators' account.
The truck then veered to the left, striking two tents in which Guardsmen were sleeping, officials said. Pvt. William L. Chase, of 800 Bellevue St. SE, was fatally crushed under the truck's front and rear wheels.
Six other Guardsmen suffered minor injuries as they scrambled to avoid the truck, which came to a stop amid the collapsed tents, authorities reported. The incident occurred within less than a minute, investigators said.