NEWS

Suicide before Crete rape charge hearing

NORFOLK, Virginia (Combined reports) – A US Navy officer accused of raping a junior enlisted sailor under his command last year while stationed at the US Naval base at Souda Bay, in Crete, shot himself to death Tuesday, hours before he was scheduled to appear at a military hearing in Virginia. Cmdr. William S. Petrie, 43, called a defense attorney two hours before the hearing was to begin to say he would not be there, The Associated Press quoted James City County Deputy Police Chief Ken Middlebrook as saying. According to local press reports, despite anxious attempts by his two attorneys to talk him into appearing to answer the charges, Petrie seemed desperate and irrational. As he listened to the pleas, he was driving his sport utility vehicle through Peninsula roads leading toward Jamestown. Then Petrie, a 20-year navy veteran, pilot and former aircraft squadron commander, apparently took his life near Colonial Parkway, The Virginia-Pilot reported. Maintenance workers later found Petrie’s body on a beach near a scenic overlook near Jamestown Island, Middlebrook said. Petrie was wearing civilian clothes, and his locked vehicle was parked nearby. Petrie shot himself once in the head, Middlebrook said. A. 357-caliber Magnum handgun was found with the body, he said. Middlebrook said police were calling the death a suicide even though an autopsy was scheduled and an investigation into his death was pending. Police did not find a suicide note, Middlebrook said. «This death is a tragedy and our hearts go with his family,» Cmdr. Hal Pittman, spokesman for the US Atlantic Fleet’s Naval Air Force, said in a statement. Petrie, a native of Orlando, Florida, had been in the navy for 20 years. He lived in James City County and had two children from a previous marriage. Tuesday’s Article 32 hearing – similar to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court – was to determine whether the charges should be dismissed, prosecuted by military courts martial or handled administratively, said Mike Maus, another navy spokesman. The alleged rape occurred on October 7 and Petrie was charged December 11. Petrie, a commanding officer of the «Rawhides» of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VRC-40 at Norfolk Naval Station since July 2000, was also accused of failing to obey a policy of the armed services not to fraternize with enlisted personnel and ignoring a specific order to return to the US naval base while stationed in Greece. According to military legal documents, Petrie engaged in an «unduly familiar personal relationship» with the victim at the US Naval Support Activity at Souda Bay, as well as kissing and engaging or attempting to engage in sexual activity with a sailor under his command. The victim, an aviation machinist’s mate 3rd class, and five other witnesses had been scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing. Unlike most squadrons, VRC-40 does not deploy as a unit. Instead, two plane detachments aboard each deployed carrier provide continuous fleet support. The squadron flies C-2A Greyhounds, a twin-engine cargo aircraft designed to land on aircraft carriers. Powered by two T-6 turboprop engines, the C-2A can deliver passengers and a payload of up to 10,000 pounds. Petrie was at Souda Bay last October with at least some members of his squadron, according to military documents. The US naval base at Souda Bay has nine permanent tenant commands, and four year-round air force and navy operational detachments. About 460 service members serve at the base, with a US and Greek civilian population of approximately another 440.