Drowning Death of Navy SEAL Trainee James Lovelace Ruled a Homicide

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Seaman James Derek Lovelace drowned during training exercises back in May, in Coronado, California. Lovelace was part of a group being tested for the Navy’s SEAL program. His death, until now, had been considered a freak accident. New findings, though, have changed that assessment.

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Lovelace’s death has now been ruled a homicide. The San Diego County autopsy report, released Wednesday, cites Seaman Lovelace’s official cause of death as drowning, which was expected. Yet the report also calls his death a homicide.

This usage of the word homicide seems a bit hazy. In our colloquial use of the word, it doubles for murder. Yet no one has been charged in association with Lovelace’s death. In this case, homicide seems to mean there were others involved, and not that a crime was committed.

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To push that point, the autopsy report states that an enlarged heart could have contributed to Lovelace’s death, too.

Lovelace was treading water during a training exercise. He was dressed in fatigues, and wearing a mask and his boots. The controversial part, in light of the report, is the role played by his instructors. As this is SEAL training, the instructors are making the exercise difficult, and were splashing and dunking the recruits.

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Witnesses say Lovelace struggled during the exercise. His face was had turned purple and his lips were blue.When instructors noticed how bad the situation had become, they pulled Lovelace from the water and rushed him to a hospital, where he later died.

While no charges have been filed, the autopsy report is pointing fingers.

“It is our opinion that the actions, and inaction, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death,” the report read.

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The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) then released this statement.

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.

It looks like this tragic episode is not over. While the training is notoriously grueling, the lengths the Navy goes to to ensure safety are usually effective.