A 23-year-old Air Force reservist killed in Kuwait last fall was a passenger on an ATV that was being driven without authorization and speeding when it flipped on its side in the sand, a military investigation concluded.
Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Ouellette, 23, of Merrimack, New Hampshire, was a member of Westover Air Reserve Base’s 24th Aerial Port Squadron but assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. He died Sept. 14.
The Ground Accident Investigation Board of the U.S. Air Force released a report this week on the investigation of the crash that killed Ouellette. The report did not identify the driver or say if any disciplinary action was recommended against him.
The crash involved Polaris Ranger all-terrain vehicle that was being delivered to another base. When it arrived, the operator said the vehicle was “sputtering” and he wanted to take it for a drive to troubleshoot the problem. But after the crash he told arriving security forces that the two were “just out joy riding,” the report said.
The driver lost control of the ATV while making a 180-degree turn on the sand at the base. The vehicle rolled over onto the passenger side, pinning Ouellette under the protective roll cage, the report said.
Ouellette died at the scene. The driver was treated for minor injuries, the report said.
Although the driver said he was trying to troubleshoot a mechanical problem, investigators said making repairs to the ATV would not be his responsibility, and the problem should have been reported to Vehicle Maintenance. The vehicle was “a piece of cargo” and not something the two should have been operating as part of their job, the report said.
“Leadership demonstrated knowledge of the events that took place during the mishap, including that the (driver) and (passenger) were ‘messing around’ with the (vehicle) and that they were likely traveling at a high rate of speed,” the report said.
Investigators determined the ATV was being driven between 25 and 35 mph, although the speed limit at the base is 12 mph and the owner’s manual said the maximum speed limit for an ATV of that type should be 25 mph and should be driven slower if there is a passenger or the driver is inexperienced, the report said.
“Neither the (driver) nor the (passenger) were wearing seatbelts, helmets, eye protection or long-sleeved shirts,” which are all violations of Air Force regulations, the report said.
After Ouellette died, now-retired Col. Craig Peters, commander of the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover, released a statement expressing his sympathy to his family and his friends at the base.
“Ronald was a valued member of the Patriot Wing and there are no words that can heal the pain his loss brings,” Peters said at the time. “We consider every Airman, civilian and dependent part of the team that makes all we do in the defense of our nation possible. The loss of our own, or any service member, is never easy. During this difficult time, our priority is to do all we can to lift and support his family, friends, fellow Airmen in his squadron and loved ones who are struggling.”
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