When a Jeep Grand Cherokee trying to outrun the California Highway Patrol was heading toward Lemoore Naval Air Station last March, CHP officers tried to alert the base but couldn’t raise anyone.
The reason? They had the wrong contact phone number. The phone just rang and rang.
That won’t be happening anymore at Lemoore or any Navy base in the continental United States.
In the wake of the deadly incident – the gate runner crashed into a jet fighter, killing both himself and his female passenger – the Navy has directed all stateside bases to make sure local law enforcement agencies can reach base officials at any hour.
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That’s according to a Navy investigation released to The Bee under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
The documents include a report about the incident with a timeline of what happened, a letter by an admiral at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., and a letter from an admiral at Navy Region Southwest headquarters in San Diego reviewing and commenting on recommendations in a report about the incident.
The heavily redacted documents show that the Navy believes the incident was unique, but one with lessons.
“While this was a very unique set of circumstances that aligned to create a narrow window of vulnerability, it is still a valuable wake-up call,” the commander in San Diego wrote.
The Fleet Forces admiral wrote, “The incident exposed vulnerabilities in ECP (Entry Control Point) security, not only at NASL (Naval Air Station Lemoore) but at all CONUS (continental United States) regions.”
The incident started about 11:38 p.m. March 30 when the CHP stopped to check on the Jeep parked on a road in Kings County not far from the base. A CHP officer heard the female tell the driver to “run,” possibly because he had outstanding warrants and there was marijuana in the vehicle.
The Jeep sped off, going the wrong way on Highway 198 at 65 mph to 100 mph.
The Jeep drove onto the base property but went around the main entrance via a bypass road and toward the operations side, but the sentries there didn’t know the vehicle was coming.
Five minutes before the gate runner got to the security post, CHP dispatch called the base to warn the Jeep might try to get into the front gate, the timeline said.
“The phone rang for approximately two minutes and twenty seconds,” the timeline states. “The phone number was associated with a NASL building that had been demolished approximately 10 years prior.”
Another call was made, but CHP got a busy signal. The CHP made a third attempt but again got a busy signal.
CHP dispatch then called the base operations phone number, which put the call on hold. About one minute and 20 seconds later, base operations transferred the call to a duty officer who was told about the pursuit.
Contacted for comment, Hanford CHP spokesman John Tyler said the Highway Patrol has not seen the report and will defer to the base.
“It’s their thing,” he said.
The Navy Region Southwest commander said in his letter it is currently not possible for local law enforcement to communicate directly with base security because the Navy uses an encrypted, digital radio system that uses the internet. “Most local law enforcement do not have this capability,” the letter said. The region is looking at potential solutions, the letter said.
But a contact numbers list has been put together and should be verified every three to six months, the letter by Rear Admiral Mark Rich to higher-ups in Norfolk said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has no comment, his spokesman Jack Langer said Tuesday. Shortly after the incident, Nunes called it an “alarming security breach” that must be fixed immediately.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, whose district includes the Navy base, did not reply to a request for comment.
At the time, Navy officials made it clear that it wasn’t a terrorist incident. Killed were Anthony Raymond Castillo, 29, of Campbell and Melissa Marie Miller, 36, of San Jose. An autopsy revealed Castillo was high on methamphetamine.
The timeline does not say specifically how the Jeep got past the guard post, but indicates it drove in via the outbound lanes because the report said the Jeep drove north on the southbound lane and that there was a “steady flow of traffic” in and out of the gate at the time.
The report included a recommendation that all installations “immediately develop a comprehensive list of all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies … and validate all primary contact numbers for these organizations.”
The recommendation will be made formal and both the Fleet Forces Command and the Commander of the Navy Installations Command will develop a message about communications between the Navy and non-Navy agencies involved in anti-terrorism, emergency management and fire and emergency coordination, said the Sept. 27 letter from Vice Admiral Richard P. Breckenridge, U.S. Fleet Forces Command deputy commander.
The commanding officer at the base is not to blame for the security breach, wrote Rich, the Navy Southwest Region rear admiral.
The investigation report states, “The commanding officer, Captain (redacted) has a firm knowledge of security requirements … and has demonstrated keen judgment and insight into the security practices of NASL, appropriately responded to the gate runner incident, and effectively managed the installation’s recovery and reporting requirements,” to which Rich added, “I strongly concur with this statement.”
Capt. Monty Ashliman, the base commander at the time, last week took a new assignment in Norfolk, Va., as the No. 3 person overseeing installations in several states.
Capt. David James, the new commanding officer, issued a statement Tuesday.
“My No. 1 priority is the security of our installation,” the statement said. “Even before assuming command, many of the recommendations from the investigation have already been implemented.”