Coastguardsman Charged With Murdering Shipmate in Dutch Harbor

The cutter Douglas Munro departing Dutch Harbor, Alaska, 2013 (USCG)

Published Aug 29, 2019 7:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, Coast Guard Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, 19, a former crewmember of the cutter Douglas Munro, was charged with murder in connection with the death of a shipmate, 19-year-old Seaman Ethan Kelch.

On January 26, during a port call in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Kelch failed to return to the ship. A search was launched, and his body was discovered on the west side of Unalaska's Amaknak Island the next day. He was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at a local clinic later that day. Kelch had suffered blunt trauma to the head, and bleeding within his skull led to his death, according to the charge sheet.

Prosecutors allege that Tucker struck Kelch in the head, strangled him and then placed him in the water. When Kelch was reported missing, Tucker attempted to mislead the search and rescue effort, charging documents contend.

Tucker has been charged with multiple serious violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The alleged offenses include two counts of muder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of maiming, one count of obstruction and one count of failure to obey an order. If he is found guilty, Tucker faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. 

“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,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, the public affairs officer for U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area. 

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.