An Air Force colonel traded his right to a trial for limits on the sentence he will face for his role in the fatal crash of Fairchild’s last B-52.
Col. William Pellerin pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of dereliction of duty stemming from the crash that killed four people at Fairchild Air Force Base last June 24. A third count was dismissed.
In exchange for his guilty plea, defense attorneys got an agreement from Lt. Gen. Thomas Griffith, the commander of the 12th Air Force, on the most stringent sentence Pellerin can receive.
That agreement remains sealed until Monday, when Col. James Van Orsdol, a military judge, will pronounce sentence.
Pellerin told Van Orsdol on Friday he was guilty of not seeking the proper authorization for the flight, an air show practice with maneuvers the Air Force, the plane’s manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration consider dangerous in the 33-year-old bomber.
Although he was operations commander for Fairchild’s 92nd Bomb Wing, he said he didn’t know such approval was necessary.
“It was my responsibility to be familiar with the regulations and requirements and be sure those requirements were followed,” Pellerin said during the hearing. “Having failed to do that, I believe I’m guilty.”
He also said he should have checked further into complaints that the plane’s pilot, Lt. Col. “Bud” Holland, had a history of dangerous flying.
At one point he told Holland to stop flying so recklessly, Pellerin said, because younger pilots might try to imitate the maneuvers.
“I said it was particularly inappropriate when he was with younger crews who, in an attempt to do these maneuvers, might end up going out and killing themselves,” he said.
Holland died in the crash along with Lt. Col. Mark McGeehan, Col. Robert Wolff and Lt. Col. Kenneth Huston.
The charge against Pellerin for failing to ground Holland when he was told of his flying record was dropped at the hastily scheduled hearing to accept the plea bargain.
As late as Thursday afternoon, Pellerin was to go on trial June 6.
The two charges carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison, forfeiture of pay for six months, a fine and dismissal from the Air Force. If he is dismissed, Pellerin would lose his pension and benefits.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, Griffith has agreed to recommend a sentence to Van Orsdol. On Monday, the judge will first determine the sentence he believes is appropriate, then open the sealed agreement.
Pellerin will receive the lesser of the two sentences.
Joe Salkowski of The Arizona Daily Star contributed to this report.