HOMICIDE: Navy SEAL Trainee Dies After Instructor Repeatedly Plunges Him Underwater, Coroner Says

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A medical examiner has determined that homicide caused the death of a Navy SEAL trainee who was repeatedly submerged in water — in violation of training protocols.

The deceased US Navy sailor, 21-year-old Seaman James Derek Lovelace, died on May 6 after a swimming pool exercise at a naval installation in Coronado, California, reports The Virginian-Pilot.

Along with NBC News, The Virginian-Pilot, a Norfolk-based newspaper, chased down the details of Lovelace’s death.

Initially, Navy officials vaguely described Lovelace’s death as a training accident. However, several anonymous sources suggested that an overzealous instructor had caused — or perhaps proximately caused — Lovelace’s death.

A now-released medical examiner’s report provides additional evidence that an instructor is to blame.

“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 medical examiner’s report states, according to The Pilot.

The events leading to Lovelace’s death began when he was attempting to tread water in a pool while wearing boots and a combat uniform. He wasn’t doing very well, as video of the incident shows.

His “face was purple and his lips were blue,” the medical examiner’s report observes.

In the video, an instructor, who is in the water, can be seen advancing toward Lovelace. The instructor then appears to dunk the struggling Navy SEAL trainee underwater.

“Over the course of the next approximately five minutes, the instructor follows the decedent around the pool, continually splashing him with water,” the medical examiner’s report explains. “The decedent is also splashed by other instructors in the water. Throughout the time period, the decedent is observed to go under the water multiple times.”

Another SEAL trainee attempted to prevent Lovelace from drowning at one point, but that effort didn’t work out.

Someone — it’s not clear who — thought about “calling a time-out” to halt the training, presumably to save Lovelace. However, this person thought better of the interruption, the report states.

“The instructor also appears to pull the decedent partially up and out of the water and then push him back,” the report obtained by The Pilot says. “Eventually, the decedent is assisted to the side of the pool where he is pulled from the water.”

Lovelace appeared to have vital signs when he was on the pool deck. At some point thereafter, however, he died of drowning. The report notes that Lovelace may have had cardiomegaly — an enlarged heart.

“[I]nstructors are reportedly advised to not dunk or pull students underwater,” the medical examiner’s report observes.

The unidentified Navy SEAL instructor is a petty officer. He has been in the Navy since 2008. Navy officials have finally put him on a desk job. However, they let him keep right on training in the aftermath of the incident.

Navy commanders did temporarily halt SEAL training to re-educate SEAL instructors on safety protocols during swimming pool drills after Lovelace’s death.

Thus far, there have been no charges of any kind.

“It is important to understand that ‘homicide’ refers to ‘death at the hands of another’ and a homicide is not inherently a crime,” Navy spokesman Ed Buice told The Pilot.

Lovelace, a native of Crestview, Fla., had been in the very first week of SEAL training. The entire SEAL course lasts six months. About 80 percent of all trainees ultimately wash out.

Family members said Lovelace gave up a college baseball scholarship because he had dreamed of becoming a Navy SEAL.

In recent months, five SEAL trainees — including Lovelace — have blacked out in swimming pools during training exercises.

A SEAL trainee has died in three of the last four Navy SEAL trainings, according to The Times-Picayune.

One of the deaths is Lovelace’s. Another SEAL trainee committed suicide after failing to complete the notoriously intense program. The third SEAL trainee died in a drunk-driving accident shortly after learning that he had failed at a critical juncture.

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