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Medical examiner classifies Navy SEAL trainee’s death as a homicide

Posted at 11:20 AM, Jul 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-06 18:35:28-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The death of a Navy SEAL trainee who drowned in a training exercise during his first week of special warfare training has been labeled a homicide, according to a medical examiner's report released Wednesday.

Seaman James "Derek" Lovelace (Photo: US Navy)

Seaman James "Derek" Lovelace (Photo: US Navy)

The report says the actions and inaction of the instructors and other individuals involved in the training exercise directly contributed to 21-year-old James Derek Lovelace's death, thus classifying the death as a homicide.

The report says Lovelace was repeatedly dunked underwater by an instructor while participating in Combat Swimmer Orientation.

The exercise consists of treading water in their camouflage uniform and boots, while wearing masks filled with water. During the exercise, instructors create adverse conditions in the water by splashing, making waves and yelling. They are not advised, however, to dunk to pull students underwater.

Surveillance video shows Lovelace appear to be struggling in the water when he is approached by an instructor and dunked. He's then followed around by the instructor over the next five minutes and splashed continually, going underwater on his own several times, and being dunked by the instructor several more times.  At one point, another student is seen attempting to help Lovelace keep his head above water and away from the instructor.

Lovelace was eventually pulled from the water and was, reportedly, still breathing at that time. After he quickly became unresponsive, 911 was called for assistance.

First responders arrived and continued to attempt to resuscitate Lovelace. He was transported to Sharp-Coronado Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 2:36 p.m., just an hour after he was pulled from the water.

The autopsy report confirms that Lovelace's cause of death was drowning.

The manner of death was classified as a homicide, with the medical examiner saying, "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."

Following Lovelace's death, an instructor was temporarily removed from his training duties. The instructor has not been named, but is an enlisted petty officer first class who joined the Navy in 2008 and has served in SEAL units based in both Coronado and Little Creek, Va.

According to the Whitehurst Powell Funeral Home, Lovelace joined the US Navy and graduated basic training on January 28, 2016 in Great Lakes, Illinois.   He is survived by his father, James Lovelace and his sisters, Lynsi Price and Kaysi Lovelace.

His death remains under investigation by Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

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