Fort Jackson drill sergeant gets prison for truck crash that killed two soldiers

Fort Jackson army recruits who died in accident remembered at Memorial

Army Privates Ethan Shrader and Timmothy Ashcraft died in an accident on Ft. Jackson during basic training.
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Army Privates Ethan Shrader and Timmothy Ashcraft died in an accident on Ft. Jackson during basic training.

Christina Vittoz hoped the drill sergeant who hit and killed her nephew and another young recruit with a truck on Fort Jackson would be “a jerk.”

Instead, after speaking with Staff Sgt. Andrew Marrow before he was sentenced to prison Tuesday, she said that “genuinely, he’s a nice guy.” Her nephew, 18-year-old Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft, might have even thrived as a soldier under Marrow’s direction as a drill sergeant, she said.

But a military judge sentenced Marrow to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty this week to two counts of negligent homicide and one count of dereliction of duty in the deadly October 2017 crash.

“I didn’t think he needed all those years,” Vittoz said of the maximum 7.5 years Marrow faced. “I was really OK if he didn’t go to jail at all. … Genuinely, he’s a nice guy. I can tell he’s remorseful. He’s genuinely sad about what happened. I can forgive him for what happened.”

Ashcraft and 19-year-old Pvt. Ethan Shrader were killed when Marrow fell asleep while driving a truck behind a group of soldiers marching in formation. The accident injured half a dozen other recruits.

The military judge, Col. Charles Pritchard of Fort Bragg, sentenced Marrow to 22 months in prison after a day and a half of testimony that included the mothers of the two dead soldiers, recruits who were injured in the accident, other witnesses and family and friends of Marrow. But the sentence was capped at 18 months under a pre-trial arrangement Marrow signed.

“There’s nothing I can do to bring your child back, and I accept responsibility for that,” Marrow said, looking to the mothers of Shrader and Ashcroft as he read from a statement Tuesday before sentencing. “I could never replace what you have lost or what I have taken.”

Because the sentence was for more than six months, Marrow will be demoted to the rank of private and forfeit all pay and allowance. Also, because the sentence is more than a year, it will automatically be appealed and sent to the Army Court of appeals. Fort Jackson commander Brig . Gen. Milford Beagle Jr. also will review the sentence.

Working at a McDonald’s and attending community college after graduating from high school, Marrow said he joined the Army in 2002 because “I just wanted to do more.” He deployed twice to Iraq, served as a member of the honor guard and graduated from Fort Jackson’s drill sergeant academy in April 2017.

Many who took the stand Tuesday morning called Marrow an outstanding soldier and a great father and husband who was remorseful about the crash.

But, it was the choices Marrow made in the hours leading up to the crash that caused the deaths of two recruits and lasting injuries to the others who were hit, prosecutors said.

“Our lives are the product of our choices,” prosecutor Capt. Samantha Katz said during closing arguments, adding that Shrader and Ashcraft’s choices to join the U.S. Army led them to Fort Jackson along with the other recruits who were injured that day.

Unfortunately, she said, it also led to them getting killed by the vehicle that was meant to keep them safe while they marched in formation. And it was Marrow’s choices to not get adequate sleep before operating the vehicle, not asking another drill sergeant to drive, and not acting on warning signs like nodding off in the moments leading up to the deadly crash that caused it.

“It was Staff Sgt. Marrow’s own choices that caused this,” Katz said. “His life moving forward must be a product of his choices. ... Staff Sgt. Marrow will have the opportunity to start over. Private Ashcraft and Private Shrader will never have that opportunity.”

But defense attorney Maj. Erik Henderson argued that the Army unwittingly set up the circumstances for the deadly crash through “an irresponsible lack of fatigue and personnel management” and “playing roulette with drill sergeant rest.”

“He didn’t have a choice; he was doing his job,” Henderson said. “The Army placed Staff Sgt. Marrow in a bad situation, and they weren’t even aware they were doing it.”

Between closing arguments and the judge’s sentencing Tuesday, Vittoz had the chance to talk with Marrow.

“To tell you the truth, I was hoping I was gonna come in here and he was gonna be a jerk,” she said. “But unfortunately, he’s a nice guy, and he has a family and a wife, and I’m truly sad for them, sad for him that he’s gonna miss out on his son’s graduation and teaching his (younger) son how to drive.”

Sitting outside after Tuesday’s sentencing, Ashcraft’s mother, Amanda Kassen, said she felt bad for everyone involved, including Marrow.

“I’m more sad for the family than anything,” she said.

Since her son died, there’s one thing that brings her comfort. It was a conversation she had with him in their kitchen before he left their Ohio hometown for Fort Jackson.

“He walked in, he says, ‘Mom, I want to tell you thank you,’” she recalled.

“I said, ‘OK, why? What’s up?”

“He says, ‘Thank you for being so hard on me while I was in school. Thank you.’”

Then he gave her a hug.

“That was the last time me and him had a heart-to-heart conversation like that,” Kassen said. “And that just keeps running through my head, and puts a smile on my face each and every time.”

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.