Drowning death of 21 year old Navy SEAL trainee ruled a homicide

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The death of a Navy SEAL trainee after undergoing a rigorous pool training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado has been ruled a homicide.

On May 6, Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, went into distress during his first week of training while performing an exercise called “drown proofing,” in which SEALs trainees tread water while in uniform and wearing a diving mask, according to the Navy. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died.

According to the autopsy report, an instructor dunked Lovelace despite seeing that he was struggling, and despite the fact that instructors are advised not to dunk or pull students underwater, the report states.

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

“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,” according to the report.

Navy officials expect charges to be filed against one of the SEALS supervising Lovelace’s training, but no such declaration has been made.

“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.”

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