SEAL trainee’s death ruled homicide

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SAN DIEGO – The death of a Navy SEAL trainee who died in May during a "drown proofing" exercise has been ruled a homicide by the San Diego County Medical Examiner.

Seaman James Lovelace, 21, died May 6 after he had difficulty in a swimming pool while participating in a rigorous training program known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) at a base in Coronado. He was pulled out of the water and later died.


The Medical Examiner's report ruled the cause of death drowning and the manner of death homicide, citing actions taken by SEAL trainers during the exercise.

"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.

Investigators with the Medical Examiner's Office reviewed security video of the training exercise as part of the autopsy investigation. The exercise, called Combat Swimmer Orientation, involved treading water in fatigues and boots. Instructors in the water made things more difficult by splashing, making waves and yelling at the trainees. However, the instructors were reportedly told not to dunk or pull the trainees underwater.

According to the report, the video showed an instructor follow Lovelace around the pool for about five minutes, continually splashing him and dunking him underwater several times.

Several witnesses told the investigator that Lovelace was struggling during the event. They said his face was purple and his lips were blue.

The Navy said that its internal investigation of Lovelace's training death has not concluded.

"We respect the integrity of the investigative process and await their final report," Lt. Trevor Davids said in a written statement. "In addition to these ongoing investigations, we have taken immediate actions to assess ourselves, our training, instructors, curriculum, safety oversight, and procedures."


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