The cause of death of the Theodore Roosevelt sailor who contracted the coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier amid an outbreak of the virus was a severe anoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest and COVID-19 sepsis, according to a Navy line of duty death investigation report obtained by The Chronicle.
The report also revealed for the first time publicly that Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a 41-year-old aviation ordnanceman chief petty officer, had been taken out of isolation and to the emergency room of the Guam naval base in the days before his death, but was released back to isolation later the same day. Investigators said that despite the fact that he died from a massive COVID infection, Thacker’s “medical evaluations indicated that he was clinically improving” 48 hours before he was found unresponsive on April 9.
Thacker died on April 13 at the Navy hospital on the Guam base where his warship had been docked since late March. No autopsy was performed as he died under the care of medical officials. He left behind a wife, who also serves in the Navy, and a young son and daughter.
While the family hasn’t spoken publicly about Thacker’s death, his widow has since left posts on her Facebook page urging people to take the virus seriously. Her mother, Thacker’s mother-in-law, initially questioned Thacker’s care, posting shortly after his death, “And that is what happened to Robert. Lack of check ups between pm and am.” She has since deleted the post.
Neither has responded to requests for comment.
More than 1,000 Rooósevelt sailors contracted the coronavirus on the ill-fated deployment. Most got sick after the carrier docked in Guam on March 27. Thacker was the only person known to have died, although several infected sailors were hospitalized in the intensive care unit. Another sailor died months later, but while the Navy waits for an official cause of death, officials have said they don’t believe it was COVID-related.
The warship’s plight garnered international attention in late March after The Chronicle published a letter from commanding officer Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, who pleaded with Navy superiors to evacuate the carrier as the virus quickly swept through its cramped quarters. Crozier was removed from his command and criticized by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who would resign days later.
A Navy report found that Crozier did not handle the outbreak properly and ruled he should remain out of the ship’s command, despite public and crew support. The ship returned to its San Diego home port this month, ending the troubled deployment.
Thacker tested positive for the coronavirus March 30, three days after the virus-stricken carrier docked in Guam. He was removed from the ship and placed in an isolation house on Naval Base Guam with four other Roosevelt sailors. The Navy has said he was checked twice a day by medical crews.
After about a week in isolation, on April 5, his eighth wedding anniversary, he was evaluated at United States Naval Hospital Guam in the emergency room and discharged later that day. The report did not specify why he was sent there.
The report said that on the morning of April 7, Thacker was evaluated during his twice-a-day checkups and his health was found to be improving. The report did not specify what was checked during these evaluations, or what his condition was in the subsequent two days.
Navy officials did not respond to a dozen questions sent by The Chronicle asking about Thacker’s care.
On April 9, at about 8:30 a.m. (Guam time), medical personnel and sailors found Thacker unresponsive and began CPR, before transferring him to the base hospital, Navy officials have said.
Symantha Thacker, also an active duty sailor stationed in San Diego, was flown to Guam after her husband was moved to the intensive care unit. She arrived two days before his passing and was by his side when he died, the Navy said.
Symantha Thacker has not spoken publicly about her husband’s death, but last month she posted a message on Facebook to those complaining about being restricted by sheltering rules.
“My evening conversation with my son tonight was how he missed his Daddy and how they used to order pizza and Daddy would let him have more pizza after bath time,” she wrote. “About how much he (A FIVE YEAR OLD) hates the sickness and wants his daddy back. He wishes he could go to school and wishes he could go to kindergarten.
“I held my daughter last night while she shook in tears while she wailed how much she wants her Daddy back,” she continued. “Stop complaining. Stay the f— home. Appreciate what you have. You may not have lost anyone to this. But a lot of us have and it f—ing sucks.”
Family members of other sailors and some crew members have complained to The Chronicle that care for symptomatic and infected sailors aboard the ship during the Guam stint had been lacking.
Thacker was born in Fort Smith, Ark., and graduated from high school in Hookstown, Pa., according to his Facebook page. He enlisted in 1997 and lived in San Diego with his family.
Thacker first served on the Roosevelt in 2016, and returned to the carrier in December. He also served on the George Washington and Ronald Reagan carriers.
Thacker had a variety of awards and citations, including two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Navy “E” Ribbon and a National Defense Service Medal.
A fundraising account raised $10,000 for Thacker’s family.
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