The drowning death of a U.S. sailor in Navy SEAL training has been ruled a homicide, with authorities determining that a SEAL instructor dunked the sailor in a swimming pool at least twice despite prohibitions against doing so.
Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, of Crestview, Florida, died May 6 during the legendarily difficult Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in California.
Video surveillance obtained by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) shows that when Lovelace was struggling during a swimming exercise, one instructor pointed him out to a second one in the water. The second instructor approached Lovelace, dunked him and then followed him around the pool for five minutes, according to a report obtained from the San Diego County medical examiner’s office.
“He continually splashes the decedent, dunks him at least one additional time, and appears to be yelling at him,” the report said. “The decedent is also splashed by other individuals during the event. At one point in the video, another individual in the water is seen pulling him up and away from the instructor.”
The report adds that Lovelace’s head goes in and out of the water multiple times, and the instructor can be seen pulling him above the surface repeatedly. Eventually the instructor pulled Lovelace out of the water and the exercise was halted.
The cause of death is listed as drowning, with cardiomegaly a contributing factor. Cardiomegaly is better known as an enlarged heart, and can cause heart failure. Lovelace was initially responsive, but soon needed “aggressive attempts at resuscitation,” the report said. He was declared dead at Sharp Coronado Hospital near downtown San Diego.
Navy Lt. Trevor Davids, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, said Wednesday that the case remains under investigation by NCIS. One instructor involved in the incident was pulled away from his training duties afterward and remains so, Davids added.
All of SEAL training was stopped three days after Lovelace’s death for a “safety stand-down” in which training was reviewed as a precautionary measure, Davids added. Additional lifesaving equipment, including oxygen bottles and an additional defibrillator, also were added near the pools.
Davids said no additional changes will be made at this time, but more are possible once the investigation is complete.