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Hearing underway for Lt. Col. in command when nine servicemembers died during training

Posted at 7:51 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 11:40:25-05

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (KGTV) - Testimony began Thursday in a hearing at Camp Pendleton. A panel of three is listening to arguments regarding Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, the former battalion landing team commander who was in charge when an Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) sunk off the coast in July of 2020, killing nine servicemembers during routine training.

This is one of five hearings set to take place that will look into Marine Corps leaders and determine if any of them played a role in those nine deaths.

Lt. Col. Regner’s hearing began Tuesday with opening statements, then the panel of three read through the investigation Wednesday before returning for testimonies Thursday.

Thursday’s testimonies included Marine Corps officers, Marines who were part of the training mission the day the incident occurred, a survivor who was inside the AAV when it sunk and parents of multiple victims who died that day.

Of the Marines who know Lt. Col. Regner, many complimented his work ethic and drive. Lt. Col. Regner is six months shy of 20 years of service and with retirement near, his attorneys say he’s owning what happened but does not think his actions justify losing his position in the Marine Corps.

Three parents of victims shared emotional testimony, talking about their children and how their families are doing now.

Peter Ostrovsky spoke about his son Jack-Ryan, who died just weeks before his 21st birthday, leaving behind a twin brother who has developmental disabilities and looked up to his “big brother.” Ostrovsky said he and his wife have read the investigation and are “shocked and disappointed by the apparent incompetence and lack of readiness,” wondering why vehicles that were in such poor condition are part of America’s force.

Ostrovsky said that after just 13 months in the Marine Corps, Jack-Ryan had already figured out that he wanted to turn it into a career, but it instead took his life.

The parents of Christopher Gnem, known to family as Bobby and friends as Doc Gnem, also spoke, his mom breaking down on the stand, sharing how the loss of her son has devastated her two daughters.

“Both of my girls now don’t want kids because they’ve seen the pain I’ve gone through,” she said, later saying “now all I have left of my son are memories and a wooden box of his ashes on my mantle.”

Gnem’s father Peter then took the stand, saying that officials sat in their living room eight months after the incident and told their grieving family that this was completely preventable and the Marine Corps would be transparent. He went on to ask why Lt. Col. Regner’s job security would be considered, when Peter is no longer able to work because he has to be home caring for his heartbroken wife and family.

Safety was a large part of the conversation during these testimonies.

The investigating officer took the stand for more than an hour, detailing the interviews he conducted and the procedures that should have been followed leading up to the drowning. He said that 12 of 13 AAVs were not operational and there should have been concern that they were not up to par, adding that any training done in malfunctioning AAVs is a waste of time. He went on to say that his investigation revealed multiple servicemembers inside the AAV had not had adequate swimming and safety training. Plus, there should have been an empty safety boat nearby, but there was not.

The defense’s questioning of the investigating officer revealed that Lt. Col. Regner was told that eleven of the 12 AAVs would be mission capable.

The investigating officer ended his testimony by saying “this was poorly executed.”

Another person to take the stand was Corporal Dallas Truxal, the driver of the AAV at the time that it went sunk and a survivor of the incident. Truxal detailed his vast knowledge of AAVs and said he personally had no concern about the maintenance of the vehicle, saying he believed it was in the best condition of all the AAVs they had.

He said his knowledge of AAVs and prior background as a high school swimmer are what saved his life. He was also able to pull another servicemember out with him, saving their life as well.

Truxal added that life since July of 2020 has been difficult and he’s battling addiction and trauma, but extending his time in the service to continue to give back.

Lt. Col. Regner is expected to be the final testimony Friday morning, then closing statements will be made and the three judges on the panel will determine how to proceed.

Related: Hearings begin into deadly AAV tragedy in waters off San Clemente Island