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Court-Martial Set at Vandenberg for Driver in Fatal Crash

An enlisted airman will face a general court-martial at Vandenberg Air Force Base in June on involuntary manslaughter and two other charges stemming from a crash that killed a colleague last summer.

Senior Airman Donald Cox, who works at the 614th Air Operations Center at Vandenberg,  has been charged in connection with the July 13 crash that killed Nicholas DiBona, 21, of Fuquay-Varina, N.C.

DiBona was one of two passengers in the car driven by Cox when the vehicle overturned off Highway 1 near Santa Lucia Canyon Road.

Cox and the second passenger, John C. Rivera, 22, both of Lompoc, suffered moderate injuries in the wreck that occurred at 4:22 p.m.

In addition to Article 119 or involuntary manslaughter, Cox has been charged with Article 111 or reckless driving with injury, and Article 134 or offenses under the Assimilated Crimes Act, according to the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps docket.

The act makes state law applicable to conduct occurring on land reserved or acquired by the federal government for instances when a crime is not punishable under federal law.

The charge is for the allegation that Cox violated a California Vehicle Code section by participating in a speed contest.

The projected trial date is June 22 and is expected to end June 27, according to the Air Force prosecutors. 

A general court-martial is for the most serious offenses, and typically comes after an Article 32 hearing, which has been likened to a civilian court's preliminary hearing or a grand-jury indictment.

Vandenberg public affairs representatives said the Article 32 hearing occurred Feb. 6.

The California Highway Patrol said Cox’s 2006 Subaru was traveling southbound on the highway at a high rate of speed when it drifted off the right side of the road and down an embankment.

DiBona, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was declared dead at the scene.

The Air Force is handling prosecution after requesting jurisdiction from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

The public highway is on base property with right-of-way easements allowing civilians to travel between the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys.

After meeting with those involved and consulting with the victim’s family, a joint decision was made last fall for the Air Force to proceed with prosecution.

Meanwhile, a summer trial date has been schedule for another airman facing a charge of homicide by vehicle in New Mexico following a July 13 crash that killed an airman from Santa Maria. 

Tylan Bolden, 20, was driving at a high speed just before the crash. Andrew Padilla, 22, was ejected from the car and died of his injuries.

Both were enlisted airmen stationed at Cannon Air Force Base outside Clovis in eastern New Mexico.

A grand jury indicted Bolden last fall, and the case is being prosecuted through the civilian justice system. 

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Aug. 3 and will be followed by the trial in Clovis District Court.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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