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Coast Guardsman Charged With January Murder Of Fellow Seaman

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Seven months after a U.S. Coast Guard seaman was found dead in Unalaska, a fellow member has been charged with his murder.

Seaman Ethan Tucker, 21, of Ludington, MI, was charged Wednesday with killing Ethan Kelch, 19, another seaman stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro.

When the Kodiak-based vessel stopped in Unalaska in January for repairs, Kelch went missing during an evening he was off work. The Virginia Beach, VA man was later found unresponsive in waters near the port and pronounced dead at the clinic.

"I wouldn't want to speculate on the motivation or cause of this incident because there is an ongoing investigation that continues," said NyxoLyno Cangemi, assistant public affairs officer for the Coast Guard Pacific Area. 

Cangemi said Tucker is in custody at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, a military prison in San Diego, awaiting court martial proceedings for seven violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"Including two specifications for murder, one specification for involuntary manslaughter, two specifications for aggravated assault, one for maiming, another for obstructing justice, [another for] making a false official statement, and a specification for failure to obey a general lawful order," he said.

According to charging documents, investigators said Tucker struck Kelch in the head and strangled him before placing and leaving him in the water. They also said Tucker misled rescuers who were searching for Kelch, made a false statement to investigators, and consumed alcohol while underage.

"The penalty that Seaman Tucker faces, if found guity, would be dishonorable discharge, confinement for life, and a total forfeiture of pay and allowances," said Cangemi. "But it's also important to note that Seaman Tucker is innocent until proven guilty and these charges merely represent allegations."

The allegations come after a seven-month inquiry by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, with help from Unalaska and state authorities.

Cangemi declined to comment on Tucker's prior military record and whether it includes any misconduct, citing the confidentiality of personnel records.

Tucker's first hearing is scheduled for Friday in California. 

Correction: This story previously misstated Ethan Tucker's age. He is 21 years old, not 19.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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