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Hawaii News

Coast Guardsman is charged for 3-month disappearing act


A veteran rescue swimmer has been charged with desertion after he disappeared for three months and triggered a massive search, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Russell Matthews faces three other charges, including being absent without leave, wrongful use and possession of a controlled substance, and causing the Coast Guard to conduct a search when there was no need, said Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas, a Coast Guard spokesman.

An Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing — will be held to determine if there’s enough evidence for Matthews to be tried in a court-martial.

Matthews, 36, was in the process of being discharged from the Coast Guard for illegal use of marijuana when he disappeared in October. He showed up at his wife’s North Shore home on Jan. 20.

Police said Matthews was incoherent when he was found, and he was taken to a hospital for observation. The Coast Guard later took him into custody and had him confined at a Navy brig while it investigated why he left without authorization.

Police had found Matthews’ car abandoned at Kaena Point after his wife reported him missing. Police at the time described him as emotionally distraught, and said his friends and family were concerned for his welfare.

Hawaii News Now reported that Matthews lost four colleagues in a 2008 helicopter crash. The following year, his first wife was critically hurt when she was hit head-on by a car while riding a bicycle. She died a couple of years later, according to public records.

"In Petty Officer Matthews’ case, we certainly empathize with his situation, but we certainly do not condone his actions," Maestas said.

Search and rescue crews scoured more than 10,000 square miles looking for Matthews. Honolulu firefighters sent a helicopter and rescue teams to search the rugged coastline and sand dunes near Kaena Point.

Maestas said he couldn’t discuss what Matthews was doing while he was missing, saying that’s part of the investigation.

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