Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Death Of Navy SEAL Trainee Ruled Homicide

James Derek Lovelace is pictured in this undated photo.
10News
James Derek Lovelace is pictured in this undated photo.

Death Of Navy SEAL Trainee Ruled Homicide
Death Of Navy SEAL Trainee Ruled Homicide GUEST:Steve Walsh, KPBS reporter

The drowning death of a Navy seal candidate during training in may have been called a homicide by the San Diego article examiner. 21-year-old James obelisks died at Naval base Coronado. The ruling is bound to be of concern to military members and families who know how grueling baby seal training is but this training appears to have crossed the line. Steve Walsh joins me to explain what led to this ruling. Thanks Allison. First of all what led the head medical examiner to determine that this death was a homicide? This is part of an examination. There are two active investigation state medical examiner investigation and then the Navy is also investigating and what they found is back in May they knew that they had already ruled that he had drowned. That was the cause. This was not heart failure. He had drowned but when it comes to homicide what they are saying is that those actions were caused by the actions of someone else or in action of someone else. In this case the instructors that were involved in this event. So what does the examiner -- how did they determine this with a homicide? I think that is what makes this -- why this will draw so much attention. This is all on tape. They were able to actually watch this go down in NCI S investigator has also looked at the tape and what they found is there was at least one instructor who was following Lovelace around the pool and dumped him at least one time. Continue to follow him around for five minutes and splashed at him and probably dumped him at least one other time in that one other time after it looks like one of the other students involved in the exercise actually tried to pull him away or at least try to keep his head above water. This exercise is very specific. This is designed to almost simulate drowning. Full fatigues booth and everything. There being splash. That is all part of it but the key finding is they are not supposed to dumped them. They are not supposed to put the sailors had below water. In this case he did have asthma. Was at a part of the investigation? He had asthma. Navy records describe at least in the medical examiner's report as not a strong swimmer. There are a couple different factors. Since his death is being treated as a homicide does that mean the person who was responsible will be charged with murder? It does not -- at least it does not mean it right now. The Navy is going on with its own investigation into this. There was actually report out by CBS news nationally. They have a source I guess in the Pentagon saying that they expect charges to come out but at this point in CIF is saying that their investigation is ongoing. They are largely through with the bulk of their fact-finding but at this point they are not speculating on whether charges will be issued here. The instructor though he has been placed on sort of desk duty at this point. He is not working with students at the moment. He is just performing administrative tasks. What we know about the instructor taught We don't know that much. NCIS is not saying very much but the Washington Post does report that they have a source that says this particular instructor had been in combat. He had been in I think Afghanistan a couple different times and he has several citations they so wish I had the in front of me but I don't. So -- he is a petty officer second class. Here we go -- indeed. Petty Officer. second class. And he has a couple different citations for valor. People may be shocked to see this world as a homicide. Is this the first time that a training related death has been ruled that such proximate a homicide? That I cannot tell you. I can tell you there have been other death surrounding this particular field program including a couple back happened. These about two people who had washed out as candidates. One of them had to actually went to a hotel and committed suicide. That addresses the issue of of how competitive this is. What percentage actually makes it? Well it has become incredibly difficult. 80% of the candidates that go through Navy seal training washout of the program. It is designed specifically to be. These of the most elite fighting forces. These are from life and death situation. Indeed that the training goes up a six month. Lovelace had been in the program for about a week. This is the first week of the active training. This training goes on for the six months. The particular course -- that training -- the water training goes on for upwards of a year. Do you think that this is a very difficult line for trainers? Is this something that will get trainers talking about how far they should be pushing people? Trainers talking about in the Navy is investigating. There are three different investigations going on. One of them is culpability which would potentially be criminal investigation and the other two are administrative and they are designed to look at the actual trading process itself to see whether or not they need to make any changes to this particular exercise does this pull exercise for training throughout the system. Okay. Well we will see what the investigation resulted but certainly I am sure there are a lot of military families around San Diego were talking about this a speaker and very much as Steve Walsh.Our KPBS reported. Thanks Allison.

The drowning death of a Navy SEAL trainee who was pulled from a pool during training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado has been ruled a homicide.

On May 6, Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, went into distress during a training exercising called "drown proofing," in which prospective SEALs tread water while in uniform and wearing a diving mask, the Navy said. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died.

The exercise is performed during the first week of training "to assess and develop students' competency, confidence and safety in the water," the Navy said.

However, an instructor dunked Lovelace despite that he was seen struggling, the autopsy report said.

"Instructors are reportedly advised to not dunk or pull students underwater," the report states.

Investigators listed Lovelace's cause of death as drowning and said he also suffered from asthma and an enlarged heart. The manner of his death was ruled a homicide.

"Although the manner of death could be considered by some as an accident, especially given that the decedent was in a rigorous training program that was meant to simulate an 'adverse' environment, it is our opinion that the actions, and inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death, and the manner of death is best classified as homicide," the report said.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone would face charges in Lovelace's death.

"It is important to understand that 'homicide' refers to 'death at the hands of another' and a homicide is not inherently a crime," Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Ed Buice said in a statement to the Navy Times.

"The nomenclature of the autopsy report does not signal that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation into Seaman Lovelace's death has culminated, nor that conclusions have been reached regarding criminal culpability," Buice said. "The NCIS investigation is open and active and NCIS does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations."

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.