FORT LEWIS, WA — Private (E-2) Timothy E. Bennitt has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Leah King, 16, on February 15, 2009, in a barracks on Fort Lewis. He has also been charged with wrongful distribution and use of controlled substances, and conspiracy to wrongfully use controlled substances. (Read charging sheet here.)
Bennitt, 19, from Rolling Prairie, Indiana, is a heavy construction equipment operator assigned to the 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, on Fort Lewis. He entered the military in June 2007 and reported to Fort Lewis in December 2007, after receiving initial entry training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., respectively. Bennitt has not deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Pvt. Bennitt did deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from December 2007 through mid-May 2008. The 864th Engineer Battalion had already deployed to Afghanistan, and Pvt. Bennitt joined the unit in Afghanistan soon after his arrival at Fort Lewis.
According to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the CID Special Agent in Charge of the investigation, Ms. King died from a toxic combination of Alprazolam, an anti-depressant marketed as Xanax, and Oxymorphone, a pain-killer marketed as Opana. These prescription drugs are meant to be taken only in an amount prescribed by a licensed physician. These drugs were manufactured to be taken in pill form, and in the case of oxymorphone, this pill form would have allowed the medication to maintain a time-release protection. However, according to investigators, there are indications at least some of these drugs were crushed and inhaled in powder form, denying any time-release protection that a pill form might provide.
In addition to charges related to the death of Leah King, we have preferred charges against PV2 Bennitt related to additional cases of distribution to some other Soldiers, as well as wrongful use of a number of drugs at previous times. These other instances remain under investigation. The drugs he’s accused of distributing include Alprazolam (Xanax), Oxymorphone (Opana), Oxycodone (Percocet), and marijuana.
The following charges were preferred today against PV2 Bennitt:
- Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Article 119 – Involuntary Manslaughter
- UCMJ, Article 112a – Wrongful use and distribution of controlled substances
- UCMJ, Article 81 – Conspiracy to use controlled substances
If convicted of all charges (and specifications) contained in the charge sheet, the maximum punishment is reduction in rank to private (E1), forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for 82 years, and a dishonorable discharge.
Fort Lewis officials emphasize that the charges are merely an accusation and that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The charges will be presented to an impartial investigating officer to conduct a hearing in accordance with Article 32 of the UCMJ, the military equivalent to a civilian grand jury. The investigating officer will make a recommendation to a convening authority on whether to proceed to court martial.
Since announcing the death of Leah King, Fort Lewis has made changes to its installation access procedures. These modifications include a requirement for minors to be signed in at the Fort Lewis Visitor’s Center. The staff at the Visitors Center will screen minors and sponsors – denying access to those who do not appear to have a legitimate reason to visit Fort Lewis. Additionally, we have increased our random access checks of vehicles to help prevent minors from gaining inappropriate access to the post. Finally, the Fort Lewis Field Officer and NCO of the day are conducting increased checks of our barracks and their Charge of Quarters to ensure compliance with command policies. Following the deployment ceremony on Feb 24th at Fort Lewis for the I Corps Headquarters, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr, I Corps’ Commanding General, spoke briefly with local media about the incident. He said, “As the commanding general of Fort Lewis, and as a father of teenage sons who go to school in the local area, we are deeply saddened by the death of a young lady in our barracks. I am greatly concerned about the circumstances surrounding her death, and I want you to know that we are committed to working with local law enforcement to have a thorough, complete, and rapid investigation of the circumstances.”
Jacoby concluded by saying, “I have complete faith and confidence in these magnificent Soldiers [of Fort Lewis] who were represented by the Soldiers you saw here today. The community should have similar faith and constant confidence. Tens of thousands of Fort Lewis Soldiers serve with courage, and with distinction, and they live the Army values every day both here at Fort Lewis and deployed overseas.”
Criminal Investigation Command officials are continuing their investigation into the case, and additional information will be released as it becomes available.