Ex-Covina resident among victims of Iraqi copter crash
By Ruby Gonzales
Saturday, January 29, 2005 - COVINA -- A former Covina resident was among 31 soldiers killed when a U.S. helicopter crashed earlier this week in Iraq.
Cpl. Stephen P. Johnson, 24, along with 29 other Marines and one Navy sailor, were heading west to help with security for the upcoming Iraqi elections when their CH-53E Super Stallion went down near Rutbah on Wednesday.
It marked the single-greatest loss of American life since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.
Johnson's brother-in-law, Jason Williams, said he was an exceptional young man and very persistent.
"He was a proud Marine," Williams said.
Kari Williams of Yreka remembered her younger brother as someone who loved doing impressions. He did Jim Carrey and characters made famous by Mike Myers such as Austin Powers.
"He was entertaining. He was very comical," she said.
She said her brother also sang well, loved country music and was into computers and technology.
He was born and raised in Siskiyou County. He attended Yreka High School, but received his high school diploma through the military, Williams said.
Johnson was married and has a child. His son, Tyler, turned 1 year old Jan. 22, Williams said.
Johnson was trying to get out of some bad situation where he was living and moved to Covina in 2000, Williams said. He stayed with an aunt.
He was the middle child and had an older sister and a younger sister. The family is making funeral arrangements.
He joined the Marines in March 2001. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment based at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, which lost 26 Marines and a Navy corpsman in the crash.
The military is investigating the cause of the crash. Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, noted the weather in western Iraq was bad.
"We don't know of any enemy action," he said. "The investigation continues. There will have to be more that comes out of this to learn what happened."
This was Johnson's first tour of duty in Iraq, said Gunnery Sgt. Claudia Lamantia, a spokeswoman at the Marine Corps base in Hawaii.
Marines from the base went to Okinawa last summer and arrived in Kuwait in September, she said. They drove to Iraq and were involved in the fighting in Fallujah, Lamantia said.
As of Friday, at least 1,423 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count. About 1,087 died as a result of hostile action, the Defense Department said.
-- John Diehm of the Siskiyou Daily News and the Associated Press contributed to this story. Ruby Gonzales can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2718, or by e-mail at email@example.com .