WEST ORANGE, NJ — An Army soldier involved in a military vehicle crash in June 2019, killing Cadet Christopher “CJ” Morgan and injuring others, was sentenced to three years of confinement after being convicted of negligent homicide, The New York Times reported on July 21. Staff Sgt. Ladonies P. Strong was driving the truck that overturned near West Point; she was also convicted of prevention of authorized seizure of property and was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless operation of a vehicle and two counts of dereliction of duty.
The case was tried in front of a military panel in Fort Stewart, Ga., where Strong’s unit of the 3rd Infantry Division is based. Strong will also receive a bad conduct discharge, according to The New York Times. The 3rd Infantry Division did not respond to a request for comment by press time on Aug. 4.
Morgan, who would have graduated from the military academy this year, was a West Orange High School graduate. A member of the wrestling and football teams at WOHS, he was also on the West Point wrestling team.
“There are no winners in this case. Chris and I are not overjoyed that this sergeant is going to jail,” April Morgan, CJ Morgan’s mother, wrote in a Facebook post on July 21. “A few seconds of being a distracted driver, driving up a steep rocky gravel road took the life of my son, injured 19 others and cost her and her TC their military careers. All we want more than anything in this world is to have CJ with us, to see him graduate from the United States Military Academy, commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army and helping him move to his first Army base. This gives us a smidgen of justice and relief. We now can move forward and complete CJ’s mission of service to others.”
Chris Morgan Sr., CJ Morgan’s father, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Aug. 4 that his family’s focus is on his other three children; Morgan’s brother Colin is now in his second year at West Point.
“What I want I can never get. I want my son back,” Morgan Sr. said. “I do feel like there’s a little validation, especially for the prosecutors who worked hard on the case, and for other people on the truck and CJ’s teammates. But, ultimately, I’m indifferent.”
West Point honored CJ Morgan at its graduation ceremony in June, leaving a seat for him among his classmates on the field.
“CJ was an outstanding cadet athlete, an exemplar of West Point values,” Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the superintendent of West Point, said at the ceremony. “We miss him, but I know his memory and example will be with you wherever you go.”
In a video celebrating the Class of 2020 that was included in the graduation livestream, friends spoke about Morgan.
“He was the guy that looked a little more handsome than me, could carry a little more than I could, was a little more happy than I was,” Dion Perinon, who was in Morgan’s platoon, said. “He was a lot more in a lot of aspects.”
Jeremiah Imanode, a wrestling teammate of Morgan’s at West Point, also talked about him in the video.
“I learned a lot from a lot of different people here at West Point,” he said. “But I think I’ve learned the most from CJ.”