Nov 25, 2007 — A federal lawsuit against protesters at Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder's funeral garnered national headlines, but overshadowed the details of how Snyder died.
A military investigation shows Snyder was killed in Iraq when a driver lost control of an armored Humvee after hitting a series of potholes. Documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show the Marines' investigator did not recommend discipline for the driver or others involved.
Snyder, whose father lives in Spring Garden Township and whose mother lives in northern Maryland, was ejected from the Humvee he was riding in as a gunner after it rolled several times on March 3, 2006.
The 20-year-old died from multiple blunt force head trauma. He had been in Iraq fewer than four weeks with his unit, the Combat Service Support Group-1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Four others, three Marines and a private contractor helping translate for the group, were injured in the crash.
Since the war began in March 2003, at least 109 Marines have been killed in crashes, the Department of Defense reported in its November casualty report.
On Oct. 31, a jury awarded Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, $10.9 million after finding
members of the Westboro Baptist Church invaded the family's privacy by protesting at Snyder's funeral.
The judgment doesn't erase the disrespect Albert Snyder family's felt as a result of church members carrying signs that insulted them and his son, Albert Snyder said.
It also won't bring back his son, a boy who had wanted to be a soldier since he was 9 years old, the Marine's father added.
Marine Capt. Brett Miner's report indicates that, in March 2006, members of Snyder's unit were briefed on their Humvee trip, a resupply mission from Camp Al Asad to Camp Al Qa'im called Operation Mighty Oak.
The Marines were part of a convoy that included four armored Humvees in case the supply chain of Humvees was attacked or ambushed.
As part of the mission, the Humvees would ride together in a convoy that would change positions as it traveled on the mostly single-lane, dirt road as a way to confuse anyone who might be tracking them or planning an attack, Miner reported.
Snyder was riding with four other people, Cpl. Kenrick Allen, Lance Cpl. Marcus Garciaalmarza, Pvt. 1st Class Allen Rome, who was driving, and a civilian contractor, Rafid Kully.
The convoy had been traveling for several minutes when two Humvees, including the one Snyder was riding in, listed as Guardian 14, moved in front of two others.
Superior officers ordered the two Humvees to slow down and get back in line in the convoy, but the order was ignored, documents showed.
Miner found Guardian 14 was traveling between 35 and 50 mph when it passed other vehicles and ran into a series of potholes. The Humvee driver, Rome, drove Guardian 14 onto the road's shoulder to pass a truck in the convoy.
Guardian 14 then came back on the road, but hit another crop of potholes and began fishtailing. Garciaalmarza told Rome, "Whoa, we might want to slow down," but before the driver could respond, the Humvee hit another large pothole.
The vehicle's rear jumped up and swung to the right. Rome fought to control the Humvee, which had armor that adds about 2,000 pounds to its weight.
Miner's report said the Humvee went off the left side of the road, then rolled.
Everyone was ejected from the Humvee. They were not wearing seat belts, Miner's report states.
Snyder was thrown 90 feet and hit his head, documents showed.
Other Marines in the convoy rushed to help the injured.
Snyder was found with a massive head wound and other injuries, and was pronounced dead at the scene, Miner reported.
The Humvee's driver, Rome, was knocked unconscious by the impact and sustained a bruised lung, fractured rib, fractured right scapula and a dislocated right knee. Garciaalmarza had a cut on his head.
Allen, who was thrown 60 feet, fractured his right leg and had cuts and other injuries. The civilian contractor, Kully, had a bruised knee and shoulder, as well as cuts on this head.
The injured, and Snyder's body, were taken to the nearest military facility.
Snyder's mother, Julie Francis, was notified the next day, March 3, 2006.
Shortly after her son's death, Francis said, "He had volunteered for his assignment of the Humvee. There was no fear. This is what he wanted to do."
Francis and Albert Snyder could not be reached for comment on the report and its findings.
Although it appears from the report that there were some issues about the convoy's formation and Rome's speed, and he is listed in the report as the one responsible for the crash, Miner did not suggest any discipline for anyone involved.
"Rome was injured in the line of duty, and not due to his own misconduct," Miner wrote. Miner could not be reached for comment on the report last week.
The investigator added, however, that Rome's choice not to wear a seat belt contributed to his injuries.
Rome was in the hospital for months and did not remember anything about the crash, Miner reported.
Statements from the others who rode with him filled in some of the blanks, including that the Marines were briefed on, and told to wear, seat belts.
Miner recommended superior officers be responsible for making sure the vehicle occupants wear seat belts. He also suggested the Marines in Snyder's unit review their techniques, policies and procedures in regard to the convoy formation used in Operation Mighty Oak.
He also wanted to add additional Humvee driving training for the Marines stationed in desert areas, and suggested they take Guardian 14 out of service.
Marines supervisors who reviewed his investigation and suggestions did not endorse those recommendations.
They also did not think superior officers should be held responsible for their occupants not wearing seat belts and said the mangled Humvee would be repaired and used.
In memorandums endorsing the final report with its changes, Marines officials said the crash was a tragic accident and offered its condolences to Snyder's family.
Reach Michele Canty at 771-2028 or [email protected]
Marines Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder
High school: Westminster High School in Maryland
Graduated: June 2003
Enlisted: Oct. 14, 2003
Unit: Combat Logistics Batallion-7, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Family: Parents, Albert Snyder and Julia Francis; sisters Sarah Anne Snyder and Tracie Lynne Snyder
A defamation lawsuit was filed June 5 in U.S. District Court in Maryland on behalf of Albert Snyder, father of Marines Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, who died in a Humvee crash March 3, 2006, in Iraq. The lawsuit named Fred W. Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church and others as defendants.
The lawsuit alleged church members violated the family's right to privacy by appearing at Matthew Snyder's March 10 funeral, defamed the Marine and his family during the protest and on their Web site, and conspired to protest at the funeral.
Several members from Phelps' church protested at the service held at a Westminster, Md., church, carrying signs that read, “Semper Fi, Semper Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Last month, a federal jury in Baltimore found the church violated Snyder's family's privacy, and the jury awarded his father $10.9 million. The church has said it plans to appeal.