Coast Guardsman gets desertion charge

HONOLULU A veteran rescue swimmer has been charged with desertion after he went missing 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, said Coast Guard spokesman Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas.

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 also faces a charge of wrongful use and possession of a controlled substance, and causing the Coast Guard to conduct a search when there was no need.

Matthews was in the process of being discharged from the Coast Guard for illegal use of marijuana when he disappeared in October.

The 36-year-old showed up at his home in mid-January more than three months after his wife reported him missing.

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

Police found his car abandoned at Kaena Point, a remote area of Oahu next to the ocean, after his wife reported Matthews missing. Police at the time described him as being emotionally distraught and said his friends and family were concerned for his welfare.

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

Maestas said the Coast Guard takes all cases like this one seriously.

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