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Autopsy: Navy SEAL trainee drowning death a homicide

Posted: 8:59 AM, Jul 06, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-07 00:35:01-04
SAN DIEGO – A 21-year-old Navy SEAL trainee who drowned during basic training at Naval Base Coronado was the victim of a homicide, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday.
 
James Derek Lovelace died May 6 in a pool exercise during his first week of basic training. He was pulled out of a pool after showing signs he was having difficulty while treading water in a camouflage uniform and a dive mask. Lovelace was taken to Sharp Coronado Hospital, where he was pronounced dead that afternoon. 
 
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office report found 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 a homicide.”
 
The report determined that on the morning of May 6, Lovelace was taking part in an exercise called “Combat Swimmer Orientation.” According to the report, surveillance video showed an instructor, who was not named, observing Lovelace struggling during the exercise. The instructor dunked Lovelace’s head under water and the followed him around the pool for about five minutes. 
 
“He continually splashes the decedent, dunks him at least one additional time, and appears to be yelling at him. The decedent is also splashed by other individuals during the event,” the report reads. 
 
Several witnesses said Lovelace’s face turned purple and his lips were blue. Lovelace’s head went under water several times. Each time he was pulled up by the instructor. Eventually, he was pulled out of the water and the exercise was stopped, the report states. 
 
Lovelace was breathing when he was pulled out of the water, but he then fell unconscious. Despite resuscitation efforts, he later passed away at the hospital. 
 
Previous Naval records showed Lovelace was not a strong swimmer, the report reads. 
 
It was not immediately confirmed if any charges would be filed in the case. 
 
Lovelace was born in Germany, and he dreamed of becoming a SEAL, according to a death announcement from Whitehurst Powell Funeral Home and Southern Heritage Crematory in his home town of Crestview, Florida.
 
He played baseball at Crestview High School and Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette, Alabama, according to the death announcement. Lovelace joined the Navy and graduated basic training on Jan. 28, 2016, in Great Lakes, Illinois. His awards and decorations include the National Defense Ribbon and Sharpshooter Pistol Qualification.
 
His mother, Katie Lovelace, died in June 2015 at the age of 44. He is survived by his father and two sisters.
 
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service released the following statement Wednesday:
 
The San Diego County California Medical Examiner's report on the autopsy of Seaman James Derek Lovelace lists the cause of his death as "drowning" and manner of death as "homicide."  Lovelace lost consciousness in a training pool at the Naval Special Warfare Center, May 6th.
"It is important to understand that 'homicide' refers to 'death at the hands of another' and a homicide is not inherently a crime.
 
"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.  The NCIS investigation is open and active and NCIS does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations."