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NCIS investigating fire that killed Navy captain

Capt. Wesley Smith dies Saturday night after house fire at NAS Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The state fire marshal and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating Saturday night's fire that took the life of the commanding officer of the USS Philippine Sea.

Capt. Wesley Smith was found unresponsive in his home on base at NAS Jacksonville about 8 p.m. He was taken to Naval Hospital Jacksonville, where he died. The cause of death has not been determined.

Smith, 50, leaves behind a wife, and grown son and daughter, but officials said no one else was in the home when the fire started.

The NAS Jacksonville Fire Department responded to the fire. Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said Jacksonville Fire-Rescue assisted with the fire in the attic of the home, but it's not clear where the fire started.

The guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea is pierside in her homeport at Naval Station Mayport. More than 30 officers, 27 chief petty officers and just over 300 enlisted men who serve aboard the ship were dealing with the loss of their captain. 

Cmdr. Nathan Rowan, the ship's executive officer, has temporarily assumed command. He said he worked with Smith for several months and considered him a mentor.

"Ultimately, he was a dad, he was a husband and he was a great guy, and I think that's what we need to keep in mind when we remember him," Rowan said.

Smith entered the Navy in 1990 and assumed command of Philippine Sea two years ago. He previously commanded guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans, which was also stationed at Mayport.

Eric Richardson said he worked with Smith for about three years.

"His leadership the one thing," Richardson. "He expected the best of us. Even when we presented him with our best, he would challenge us to make it better."

Plans for a memorial service and funeral for Smith are ongoing.


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