By Kent Harris, Stars and Stripes European edition, Saturday, May 26, 2007
A Vicenza, Italy-based soldier, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, died as a result of horseplay that went horribly wrong, according to an Army Criminal Investigation Command report.
Pfc. Joseph Cruz, 22, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, was shot in the head on Oct. 15, 2005, while in his barracks room at Orgun-E.
More than 200 pages of the CID report were received by Stars and Stripes this week, just as the last elements of Cruz’s former unit — the 173rd Airborne Brigade — make their way back to Afghanistan for another rotation.
Spc. Jason Alipio, a member of the same company, was eventually charged in the death, which the Department of Defense announced as “non-combat related injuries sustained in an accident.”
Alipio was found guilty of negligent homicide in a court-martial in Vicenza last June. He was reduced in rank to E-1, forfeited all pay and was given a bad-conduct discharge. Stars and Stripes was not informed of the court-martial, and the results were not released until Friday.
All names except for Cruz’s are redacted in the CID report. But according to testimony — which can be determined to be Alipio’s because he was charged in the death — the incident began with Alipio and Cruz were joking around over a video game.
According to the report, Alipio approached Cruz while he was lying on his bunk, playing a video game. He asked Cruz if he wanted to go with him to the exchange. Cruz refused, saying he hadn’t finished his game. After Alipio pretended to turn off the game, Cruz grabbed his 9 mm weapon and playfully aimed it at Alipio. Alipio then took control of it. He said he was handing it back to Cruz, with the barrel pointed at Cruz’s head, when Cruz grabbed at the gun, causing him to pull the trigger, according to the report.
Cruz, struck in the head, received immediate medical attention from several other soldiers in and around the barracks room who heard the shot. He later received more treatment on base before being flown by helicopter to Bagram air base, where he was pronounced dead on Oct. 16.
Alipio acknowledged in the report that soldiers are told not to aim weapons at anyone they’re not prepared to shoot. And that it was against policy to have a loaded magazine chambered in a weapon on base. He said he believed both he and Cruz thought the magazine was empty.
“I made a mistake that night that resulted in the death of my best friend,” he wrote in a sworn statement. “This was a tragic accident caused by negligence. This was not intentional. He was my best friend.”