SANTA ANA — Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday and were immediately sentenced to more than 100 hours of community service for a hate crime in Rancho Santa Margarita against an Army veteran three years ago.
Nicholas Lloyd Reynolds, 23, and Coty Nebenzahl, 23, both pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violation of civil rights with violent injury, according to court records.
The two were at a McDonald’s restaurant at 30672 Santa Margarita Parkway on April 12, 2018, when they got into a verbal altercation with the victim, according to court records.
Reynolds hollered a racist epithet for Blacks even though the victim was of Middle Eastern heritage and also spit at him, according to court records.
At first when the two drove by, the victim, who was wearing an Army shirt and hat, thought the defendants were being friendly, but instead they yelled racial epithets and an expletive regarding the U.S. Army, according to court records. When the victim said he was not Black they told him to “go back” to an Arabic country, according to court records.
Reynolds was placed on one year of formal probation and sentenced to 150 hours of community service. Nebenzahl was sentenced to 140 hours of community service and 10 days of Caltrans work.
A search and rescue effort for a sailor presumed overboard off the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been called off, and the sailor is presumed dead, Navy officials from the Third Fleet announced late Saturday, Dec. 12.
Two days ago, the ship’s crew initiated the search after a lookout spotted what appeared to be a person in the water at 7:30 a.m. A sailor was unaccounted for during a command-wide muster, officials said.
The search off the Southern California coast — which included the Roosevelt and four other Navy ships, Navy aircraft and the U.S. Coast Guard — covered more than 607 square nautical miles for more than 55 hours. The sailor’s family was notified before the search efforts ended.
“The loss of our sailor is felt deeply by all on board,” Capt. Eric Anduze, commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt, said in a statement on Saturday. “The entire Theodore Roosevelt team sends our deepest condolences to the family of our missing shipmate.”
The incident remains under investigation.
The carrier left San Diego on Monday for a second 2020 deployment.
Three Southern California Marines are among the eight service members presumed dead off San Clemente Island following a training accident last week.
The Marines and sailor have been missing since Thursday, July 30, when their seafaring vehicle — known as an AAV — took on water and sank during a routine training exercise near the island. The Navy-owned island is about 50 miles west of Orange County and 20 miles south of Catalina Island. It is the only ship-to-shore live-fire training range in the nation.
The AAV and 12 others had just left the island’s beaches and were heading out to the USS Somerset, an amphibious transport dock. They had spent the day training on the island.
Eight other Marines managed to jump from the sinking AAV. One Marine later died at the scene and two others were flown via helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
Early Sunday, officials announced that after a 40-hour search and rescue effort involving multiple Navy ships, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and U.S. Coast Guard vessels, the mission had turned to recovery.
On Sunday night, officials with command elements from the training exercise identified one Marine who was killed and seven Marines and one sailor who are now presumed dead.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene on Thursday, July 30, before being flown to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
Presumed dead are:
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore. and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside.
All of the Marines were based at Camp Pendleton and were part of the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion. They were infantrymen who served with Battalion Landing Team 1/4. All were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Names of two injured Marines were not immediately released. Both remain hospitalized at Scripps Memorial Hospital.
A Navy ship, used for submarine rescue, is now involved in looking for the missing service members and the AAV.
SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korean troops exchanged fire along their tense border on Sunday, the South’s military said, blaming North Korean soldiers for targeting a guard post.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said in a statement that North Korean troops fired several bullets at a South Korean guard post inside the heavily fortified border. South Korea fired two rounds in response after issuing a warning broadcast, it said.
South Korea suffered no casualties, the military said. It’s unknown whether North Korea had any casualties. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency hasn’t reported about the incident.
KCNA said Kim attended Friday’s ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang along with senior officials. State TV showed Kim smiling and walking around factory facilities.
Kim earlier vanished from the public eye after presiding over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 11 to discuss the coronavirus. Speculation about his health began swirling after he missed an April 15 event commemorating the birthday of his grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, something he had never done since inheriting power upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011.
The Koreas are split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide border called the Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer. But unlike its name, the DMZ is the world’s most heavily fortified border. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.
In late 2018, the two Koreas began destroying some of their front-line guard posts and removing mines from the DMZ as part of steps to reduce tensions. But the efforts stalled amid a deadlock in nuclear negotiations between Kim and President Donald Trump meant to convince North Korea to give up its arsenal in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The last time there was gunfire along the border was in 2017, when North Korea sprayed bullets at a soldier fleeing to South Korea.
A 100-acre plot that had been intended for a golf course in the Orange County Great Park will become a veterans cemetery, the Irvine City Council decided late Tuesday, July 23.
The decision is intended to settle more than five years of debate over where the county will lay its military service members to rest, but a few outstanding issues could slow or derail the project.
Council members chose the golf course site in a 4-1 vote after several dozen residents, including veterans, urged them to move forward – though some speakers and Councilwoman Melissa Fox, who cast the sole no vote, favored a site on the Great Park’s northern border that was originally pitched for the cemetery in 2014.
Known as ARDA, that northern site still contains buildings, runways and contamination such as asbestos from the former El Toro Marine air base, and state estimates peg the cost of cleanup and the first phase of a cemetery at $95 million.
A formal review of the golf course site, which is south of the ARDA parcel and was also part of El Toro, hasn’t taken place but city officials project a cemetery’s initial phase could be built there for just under $59 million.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion, which included comments from several dozen residents, centered on which site would be better, cheaper or faster to build on, and there were plenty of disputes over which side’s facts were accurate.
FivePoint Holdings, which is overseeing development of much of the Great Park and the surrounding homes, has pledged $28 million – of which $18 million had been promised to build the golf course – toward the cemetery project.
Officials also expect $24.5 million from the state and a potential $10 million in federal reimbursement for the project.
The company’s offer led some speakers to accuse council members of conspiring with FivePoint to free up the ARDA site for development, an assertion Mayor Christina Shea called “ridiculous.”
To address that, Councilwoman Farrah Khan asked for a future council discussion on rezoning the ARDA property, where current rules allow 250 homes, two hotels and a retail center. That issue should come up next month.
One remaining obstacle is a state bill that designates the ARDA site for the cemetery; it will have to be amended.
And former mayor Larry Agran, who has led the charge to build on the ARDA site, could pursue a ballot measure to enforce what he says is the will of city voters. Agran backed a 2018 initiative that overturned a council-approved land swap that would have put the cemetery on a different site owned by FivePoint that is now used to grow strawberries.
Some veterans just want to see the matter settled for themselves and their fellow service members. Vietnam veteran Bill Cook urged the council before the vote: “Don’t kick the can down the road any farther.”
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR — The identities of four Marines killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near El Centro, near the Mexican border, this week were confirmed by military officials Thursday, April 5.
The Marines are identified as pilot Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. and co-pilot First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. Two crew chiefs — Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio and Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. — also were killed.
First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. (Courtesy of USMC)
Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. (Courtesy of USMC)
Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. (Courtesy of USMC)
Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio. (Courtesy of USMC)
The four Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
They departed the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms on Tuesday for squadron training, which included aircraft landings in “unimproved zones” — unpaved areas — said Capt. Morgan Frazer, with the 3rd MAW. The crash occurred at 2:35 p.m. approximately 15 miles west of El Centro.
Military investigators continue to probe what led to the deadly incident.
“The loss of our Marines weighs heavy on our hearts,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, commanding general of 3rd MAW. “Our priority is to provide support for our families and HMH-465 during this critical time.”
Schultz joined the Marine Corps in May 2012. His previous duty stations included Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; and MCAS New River, N.C. He also deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Phillips joined in August 2013. He previously served at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Holley, a highly decorated Marine with nearly 15 years in the Marine Corps, joined in November 2003. His duty stations included Marine Corps Base Quantico and MCAS Miramar. Holley deployed to Iraq twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program, and with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Air Medal-Strike/Flight, and the Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.
Conrad joined the Marine Corps in May 2016.
“The hardest part of being a Marine is the tragic loss of life of a fellow brother-in-arms,” said Col. Craig Leflore, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16. “My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of Capt. Samuel Shultz, First Lt. Samuel Phillips, Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, and Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad. These ‘Warhorse’ Marines brought joy and laughter to so many around them. They each served honorably, wore the uniform proudly and were a perfect example of what makes our Marine Corps great — its people. They will forever be in our hearts and minds.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.
Trump recently visited Miramar and spoke to hundreds from the 3rd MAW, promising new aircraft and financial support.
Tuesday’s helicopter crash near the San Diego-Mexico border is the deadliest Marine Corps crash since 15 Marines and one sailor died when the C-130 in which they were flying crashed into a Mississippi bean field in July.
Capt. Sean Endecott Elliott, whose parents live in San Juan Capistrano, was the co-pilot in that crash. He was part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, a reserve KC-130T squadron based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y.
The plane flew from there to Cherry Point, N.C., where it picked up six Marines and a Navy corpsman from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s elite 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. It was headed to Yuma for pre-deployment training.
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Tuesday’s crash was one of three U.S. military aircraft training accidents in three days, resulting in a total of five deaths. Also, on Tuesday, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet crashed in Djibouti in East Africa. The crash occurred during a training exercise and the pilot was able to eject.
On Wednesday, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot died when his F-16 crashed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, according to defense officials.
The three crashes in three days mirror the surge in non-combat aircraft mishaps in the military.
Sen. John McCain addressed the trend on Twitter, Thursday:
“Praying for the family & friends of @AFThunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash in #Nevada. With more service members dying in routine training accidents than in combat, we must do everything to ensure our military has the training, equipment & resources it needs,” he tweeted.
Praying for the family & friends of @AFThunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash in #Nevada. With more service members dying in routine training accidents than in combat, we must do everything to ensure our military has the training, equipment & resources it needs.
FORT IRWIN >> An Army AH64 Apache helicopter crashed about 1 a.m. Saturday during pre-deployment training operations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, killing two soldiers aboard, an Army spokeswoman said Saturday night.
Both soldiers were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Colorado. Fort Irwin is in San Bernardino County outside Barstow.
Names and service information for the deceased are being withheld pending next-of-kin notification, said Brandy Gill, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson in Colorado, where the division is based.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of two 4th Infantry Division soldiers at the National Training Center today,” said Maj. Gen. Randy A. George, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
“Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to their families and friends during this difficult and painful time. The loss of any soldier truly saddens everyone here at the Mountain Post and it is a tremendous loss to the team,” George said.
The cause of the accident was under investigation.
As soon as additional details become available, they will be provided, Gill said.
The sprawling training center at Fort Irwin hosts live-fire training scenarios for Army units from around the country.
Often they stay there for weeks, using artillery and tanks brought in by rail and truck.
Many of these units come to Fort Irwin for their final training before deployment overseas.
LOS ANGELES >> A federal judge in Los Angeles today issued the fourth nationwide preliminary injunction halting President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transgender individuals from openly serving in the military while it is challenged in the courts.
Federal District Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled the ban was discriminatory and unlawful.
The suit was filed by seven transgender individuals either serving in the armed forces or intending to enlist and the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning civil rights organization Equality California.
California is a co-plaintiff in the case filed in the Central District of California.
Federal courts in Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia previously issued injunctions against the ban.
“Discriminating against capable soldiers because of their gender identity does not represent the values of our great nation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “We are pleased that today’s ruling proves that discrimination against transgender Americans will not be tolerated.
“The president’s disgraceful ban on transgender people serving in the military not only compromises our national security, but it marginalizes transgender Americans who are willing to sacrifice everything to keep us safe. We are proud to be part of the fight to protect the rights of this honorable group of brave people defending our country.”
In a series of tweets July 26, Trump wrote that “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Trump issued a memorandum in August, extending the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly in the military beyond Jan. 1.
Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director, said in September the costs to the government of transition-related care would be negligible.
WASHINGTON — Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson died in a hail of gunfire, hit as many as 18 times as he took cover in thick brush, fighting to the end after fleeing militants who had just killed three comrades in an October ambush in Niger, The Associated Press has learned.
A military investigation has concluded that Johnson wasn’t captured alive or killed at close range, dispelling a swirl of rumors about how he died.
The report has determined that Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire from members of an Islamic State offshoot, according to U.S. officials familiar with the findings. The Oct. 4 ambush took place about 120 miles north of Niamey, the African nation’s capital. Johnson’s body was recovered two days later.
U.S. officials familiar with the findings spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe details of an investigation that has not been finalized or publicly released.
A 12-member Army special forces unit was accompanying 30 Nigerien forces when they were attacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 militants traveling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Johnson was struck as many as 18 times from a distance by a volley of machine gun rounds, according to the U.S. officials, who said he was firing back as he and two Nigerien soldiers tried to escape.
All told, four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien troops were killed in the ambush. Two U.S. and eight Nigerien troops were wounded.
The bodies of three U.S. Green Berets were located on the day of the attack, but not Johnson’s remains. The gap in time led to questions about whether Johnson was killed in the assault and not found, or if he was taken away by the enemy.
According to the officials, a medical examination concluded that Johnson was hit by fire from M-4 rifles — probably stolen by the insurgents — and Soviet-made heavy machine guns. It is believed he died in the attack.
The officials said Johnson was found under thick scrub brush where he tried to take cover. There were no indications he was shot at close range, or had been bound or taken prisoner, as several media reports have suggested.
A U.S. Africa Command began its investigation with a team headed by Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the command’s chief of staff. The team visited locations in Niger to collect evidence and information about the attack, and will soon submit a draft of Cloutier’s report to Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of Africa Command. Waldhauser could ask for additional information. The final report is expected to be released next month.
The officials familiar with the report’s conclusions said that during the attack, Johnson and two Nigerien soldiers tried to get to a vehicle to escape, but were unable to do so, became separated from the others and were shot as they were running for safety.
The report concluded that Johnson, who was athletic and a runner, was in the lead and got the farthest away, seeking cover in the brush. Officials said there were a number of enemy shells around Johnson, and evidence that he appeared to fight to the end. His boots and other equipment were later stolen, but he was still wearing his uniform.
As news of the ambush came out, the U.S. military sent in rescue teams to search for Johnson, not making his status public in the hope he might have gotten away and was still alive and hiding. The Pentagon only acknowledged that he was missing after his body was located two days later by local forces.
The Pentagon has declined to release details about the exact mission of the commando team. U.S. officials have previously said that the joint U.S.-Niger patrol had been asked to assist a second American commando team hunting for a senior Islamic State member, who also had former ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The team had been asked to go to a location where the insurgent had last been seen, and collect intelligence.
After completing that mission, the troops stopped in a village for a short time to get food and water, then left. The U.S. military believes someone in the village may have tipped off attackers to the presence of U.S. commandoes and Nigerien forces in the area, setting in motion the ambush.
U.S. special operations forces have been routinely working with Niger’s forces, helping them to improve their abilities to fight extremists in the region. That effort has increased in recent years, the Pentagon said.
The three other Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia. Black and Wright were Army Special Forces. Johnson and Johnson were not commandos.
Johnson’s combat death led to a political squabble between President Donald Trump and a Democratic congresswoman from Florida after Trump told Johnson’s pregnant widow in a phone call that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Rep. Frederica Wilson was riding with Johnson’s family to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone. The spat grew to include Trump’s chief of staff, who called Wilson an “empty barrel” making noise.