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Army investigator said Green Beret's death was 'negligent homicide' by KBR

But an Army spokesman discounts the correspondence to the family of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted while taking a shower in Iraq.

January 23, 2009|Peter Spiegel

WASHINGTON — An Army criminal investigator told the family of a Green Beret who was electrocuted while taking a shower at his base in Baghdad that the soldier's death was a case of "negligent homicide" by military contractor KBR and two of its supervisors.

The report last month to the family of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth said Houston-based KBR failed to make certain that qualified electricians and plumbers were working on the barracks where Maseth was killed a year ago, according to a U.S. government official who has seen the correspondence.

Such a finding would change Maseth's cause of death from an accident to negligent homicide, the investigator told the family. The finding was first reported Thursday by the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division said any communication with the family by an investigator did not constitute a final determination of the cause of death, which is made by a medical examiner.

In addition, an official finding of negligent homicide can be made only by military lawyers, who have yet to decide on any charges.

"We routinely try to keep the family members of deceased soldiers updated on the progress of our investigation," said Christopher Grey, the CID spokesman. "In that correspondence, our agent may have misspoken."

Nevertheless, supporters of Maseth's Pittsburgh-based family, including members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, said the investigator's report provided further proof that the Pentagon must be pressed to complete the investigation thoroughly.

Until two years ago, KBR was a subsidiary of oil services giant Halliburton, the Houston-based company once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is leading a congressional inquiry into the case, called the report disturbing both because of the new evidence that was uncovered and because it took so long to disclose. Maseth, who was 24, died of cardiac arrest in January 2008.

"It is a significant development in the investigation," Casey said in an interview. "We've been frustrated throughout this process -- for over a year now -- with how slowly and how incompletely they have gone about investigating" the death.

Heather L. Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said the company could not comment on the investigator's report since executives had not seen it. But she noted that KBR's internal investigation found no evidence that the company was responsible for Maseth's death.

"We have cooperated fully with all government agencies investigating this matter and will do so in the future," Browne said.

Maseth's family filed a wrongful death suit against KBR last year charging that the company knew the electrical systems it had installed were dangerous.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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