FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — The company commander of a signal unit has been arrested on manslaughter charges after leaving his executive officer unattended in a parked car Friday, military police confirmed.
Capt. Rick Halset, 30, was apprehended after his Executive Officer, Lt. Carl Higgs, 26, was found dead, still locked inside the vehicle.
Higgs was apparently left in the car outside the post exchange (PX) while Halset went inside to grab a few things. “I told him I’d be right back, I didn’t think I needed to leave the car running, I really only meant to be gone a minute,” said an obviously distraught Halset.
Bystanders reported the lieutenant had locked himself in the car with the windows up in the blistering Arizona sun. By the time Halset had returned, Higgs had suffered a heat stroke and passed away before base EMS could respond.
Carolyn Tyler, an army spouse, was heading to the PX when she spotted Higgs in the car.
“I was walking in to get some Boone’s Farm for me and the hubby to enjoy when he got back from the field and I saw this poor lieutenant stuck in that car,” Tyler said. “It’s over 100 degrees here, what kind of monster would leave that little guy in a hot car with the windows up?”
Others tried to assist the young officer in unlocking the doors so he could get to safety.
“I tried to coax him towards the door so maybe he’d hit the button, but I couldn’t get him to listen to me,” said Specialist Byron Tiller. “I’ve seen people do cruel stuff like that to lieutenants before, and it’s just not right. Unfortunately we got there too late to make much of a difference and before I called for a medic he was already headed out.”
“I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the Captain what happened to the lieutenant,” First Sergeant Bryan McGraw told reporters. “He didn’t seem to understand why he wasn’t moving anymore, so I just told him Higgs had to go to a B-billet in recruiting where he was going to be very happy. I even promised him we’d go to Fort Benning, or hell, even West Point, and pick him out a new lieutenant. But he just kept crying ‘I don’t want a new lieutenant, I want Higgs!'”
“I really feel bad for the young Captain,” he added.
The incident has forced the Army to review its policies on the humane treatment of Lieutenants.
“Some people think getting a lieutenant is as easy as feeding them, but there are a lot of other things, like training, mentorship, etcetera,” said Col. Steven Chang, Halset and Higgs’ battalion commander. “And when you get these irresponsible CO’s who get lieutenants and then neglect them, that’s how you get these dangerous lieutenants who are just going to get fired and end up in some staff section with nobody who loves them, waiting on a mentor who’s probably never going to show up. That’s why I always adopt my staff from the S-3 or company office.”
Even enlisted soldiers are rallying to help young LT’s with the formation of the ASPCA, or Army Specialists, Privates, and Corporals Association. The ASPCA has a mission of “mentoring and caring for Lieutenants until they survive to make Captain,” according to ASPCA spokesperson Specialist Gina Woods.
While the Provost Marshall’s office at Fort Huachua is seeking to charge Capt. Halset with manslaughter, Col. Chang has succeeded in reducing the charge to one misdemeanor count of neglect of a Junior Officer.
“I listened to Colonel Chang’s argument, and I realized that it’s not really that young Captain’s fault,” said Maj. Stephanie Cook. “That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a young officer, and we’re proud that he remembered to feed him and take him for runs everyday.”