COLUMBIA — Running on four hours of sleep from the night before, the drill sergeant was fighting to stay awake.
At Columbia’s Fort Jackson, with a group of Army recruits marching in front of him, Andrew Marrow rolled down the driver's side window of the pickup truck so the October air would hit his face. Hauling drinking water in a trailer bed, Marrow tried to keep alert. But his eyes closed.
“I awake to numerous people screaming and shouting,” Marrow said in a Fort Jackson courtroom on Monday, choking back tears as he read from a statement at his trial by court martial.
The drill sergeant recalled jumping out of the truck, frantic. He didn’t know it yet, but pinned beneath the 12,000-pound truck were two of the recruits who had been marching in the formation; they would die. Seven other soldiers lay scattered on the ground around him, many critically injured.
In court Monday, Marrow pleaded guilty to charges of dereliction of duty and negligent homicide. Marrow faces up to seven-and-a-half years of incarceration. His trial resumes Tuesday.
After Judge Col. Charles Pritchard accepted the plea, the court heard from scores of prosecutors’ witnesses who described the terror and chaos of that afternoon, Oct. 6, 2017.
Hannah New, who was marching with the formation that afternoon, recounted for the court in the moments immediately preceding her getting overtaken by the truck.
“Someone shouted, ‘Watch out,’ (and) I could barely turn around before it hit me,” she testified, her voice trembling at times.
In the moments after she was hit, New watched from a distance as someone draped a jacket over the body of Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft, 18. She testified that Pvt. Ethan Shrader, 19, lay nearby bleeding on the ground, calling out for his mother.
Shrader died later that day after he was transported to a hospital.
New herself would be hospitalized for nine days, she told the court, with liver lacerations, lung contusions and a fractured spine.
About a year after the deadly incident, in October 2018, an investigative report completed by the Army faulted Marrow’s exhaustion as well as his superiors.
The 152-page report, which was requested by The Post and Courier via the Freedom of Information Act, makes recommendations for preventing similar events, but those portions of the report were redacted.
During the court martial proceeding Monday, the judge heard from witnesses for more than six hours. By day’s end, prosecutors rested their case.
During her testimony, Amanda Kassen, Timothy’s mother, told the judge she was still grieving the loss of her son and still struggled with the idea of forgiving those she believes are responsible for her son’s death.
“When I found out what happened, a part of me died,” Kassen said. “I call his phone three times a week just to hear his voice. I still visit his Facebook page.”
The most difficult aspect of Timothy’s death, she testified, is “not knowing what he (would have) become.”
Similarly, Tammy Shrader, Ethan's mother, and her oldest son Dale offered the court a glimpse into their lives.
Dale recalled boasting about his brother’s decision to enlist.
“This is the most unselfish act a person can do, and (you’re) taking that step,” Dale said on Facebook when Ethan left for Fort Jackson.
On the same day Dale learned of his brother’s death, he testified, he received the last letter Ethan had sent him. Dale had told his younger brother his plans to propose to his girlfriend and how he couldn’t get married without him there.
In the letter, Dale said in court, his brother had agreed to be his best man.
Marrow, in addition to incarceration, also faces the possibility of a dishonorable discharge. Marrow entered a guilty plea in the hopes of being afforded leniency when the judge sentences him after the defense presents its witnesses. The trial resumes Tuesday morning.