October was the deadliest month since 2012 for Marines killed in motor vehicle accidents, according to statistics Marine Corps Times received from the Naval Safety Center.
The month of October, which kicked off fiscal year 2020, saw eight Marines die in off-duty accidents ― a massive spike compared to fiscal year 2019, which had a total of 27 Marine vehicle-related deaths in the entire year, according to safety center statistics. September 2012 had eight deaths. Before that, it was October 2007 that also saw eight deaths.
Marine Forces Special Operations Command was the hardest hit community in October. Two Marines with the 2nd Marine Raider Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were killed, as was one Marine Raider from the 1st Marine Raider Battalion in Camp Pendleton, California, the Marine Corps confirmed.
The Marine Corps said it “continually strives to implement precautionary measures in preventing off-duty accidents," but added there is not enough evidence to conclude that the October spike is anything more than a statistical outlier.
“Causal factors vary between each mishap, making it difficult to draw any conclusions from a single month’s numbers,” Capt. Christopher Harrison, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an email.
Reducing off-duty traffic accidents has been a priority for the Marine Corps, and the spike comes after two consecutive years of reducing vehicle fatalities, Navy statistics show.
Despite the decline in vehicle fatalities, car and motorcycle accidents were the No. 1 mishap killer of Marines in 2018, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
So far in November no off-duty vehicle deaths have been reported by the Naval Safety Center.
Three October deaths were related to motorcycle accidents, while a car accident in Twentynine Palms, California, resulted in the death of one Marine, one sailor and sent two more Marines to the hospital.
Marine Cpl. Erin Rachel Lilleyfogle, 23, was killed in October as a pedestrian. She was struck and killed by a car on a South Carolina highway when she left her vehicle to help someone involved in a previous crash, Marine Corps Times reported in October.
Lilleyfogle, a Marine with Headquarters and Service Battalion aboard the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, was the caretaker for depot mascot, Opha May, and was in the process of being awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Capt. Bryan McDonnell, a Marine Corps spokesman told Marine Corps Times Oct. 16.
Two Marines in the Raider community ― Cpl. Darian A. Sanchez, 21, and Cpl. Gilberto J. Colon Rodriguez, 21 ― were both killed in an Oct. 10 single-car accident in South Carolina, according to the Navy Safety Center report.
Sanchez, born in Miami, joined the Marine Corps in May 2016 and later joined the Raider support unit as an electrician, Maj. Kristin Tortorici, a MARSOC spokeswoman, told Marine Corps Times in an email.
Colon Rodriguez, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and in July 2016 reported Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp. He eventually was assigned to 2nd Marine Raider Support Battalion in March 2017, Tortorici said.
Both Marines deployed once in support of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Iraq, Tortorici said.
Staff Sgt. Ellecer “Nate” Cortes-Peck, 30, died in a multivehicle accident Oct. 28 on his way into work, Tortorici told Marine Corps Times.
Cortes-Peck, from North Beach, Maryland, enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 2008, spending his first four years as an 0311 rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, and 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and deploying twice to Afghanistan, Tortorici said.
He was selected to become a Marine Raider in 2012, eventually being assigned to the 1st Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, where he deployed twice. His awards include a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor Combat Distinguishing Device, Tortorici said.
“Marine Forces Special Operations Command is deeply saddened by the recent losses of our Marines in off-duty vehicle accidents in South Carolina and California during the month of October,” Tortorici said.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the loved ones of Cpl. Sanchez, Cpl. Colon Rodriguez, and SSgt. Cortes-Peck, who we will continue to support as they grieve these tremendous losses,” she added.
While over a third of those killed in vehicle accidents in October were from MARSOC, units from across the fleet were affected too.
Cpl. Malik Peterson, 25, was an aircraft maintenance administration specialist with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39, based at Camp Pendleton, California. He was killed Oct. 31 when two vehicles struck his motorcycle, according to the Naval safety data.
Peterson joined the Marine Corps Aug. 24, 2015, and his personal awards include a sea service deployment ribbon, two certificates of commendation and eight letters of appreciation, Gunnery Sgt. Jon Holmes, a spokesman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, told Marine Corps Times in an email.
“Our thoughts are with the Peterson family during this tragic time,” Lt. Col. Forest Rees, commanding officer for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39, said in statement emailed to Marine Corps Times.
“Cpl. Malik Peterson was a steadfast Marine who was dedicated to his friends, family and fellow Marine. His presence in the squadron will be missed," Rees added.
The Corps said it will continue to preach vehicle safety.
“The Marine Corps continues to maintain an aggressive force preservation posture through the regular conduct of safety training, briefs, and mentorship to minimize risks with off-duty Marines," Harrison said.
Marine Sgt. Matthew Lowenthal was an aircraft ordnance technician with the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 at the Marine Corps air station in Miramar, California, was terminally injured while riding his motorcycle Oct. 9.
The Marine fought for his life another six days before eventually succumbing to his injuries Oct. 15 — his 24th birthday.
Staff Sgt. Michael R. VanVliet, 36, with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was the first Marine killed in October after he crashed his motorcycle around 1:20 a.m. Oct. 5.
Police believe the Marine was found shortly after his motorcycle swerved off the road and hit a post. They added that there were not signs of speeding or other factors that could have caused the crash, the Daily News in Jacksonville, North Carolina, reported.
Pfc. Menachem M. Goldbloom was killed in a multivehicle accident on Twentynine Palms Highway Oct. 20, the naval safety center showed.
Goldbloom, 24, from Cook County, Illinois, enlisted in the Corps in March and had just joined his 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, unit in Twentynine Palms, California, 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times after the crash.