San Diego

Family of Aspiring Navy SEAL Who Drowned Demands Answers to His Death

The attorney for the family of a former U.S. Navy SEAL trainee has sent the Navy a letter demanding an answer to whether their loved one died in the line of duty within ten days.

James Derek Lovelace, 21, died May 6, 2016, at Naval Base Coronado while undergoing training regimens.

Read the full letter here.

Lovelace had enlisted in the U.S. Navy boot camp in November 2015. In January of the following year, he began an intense physical conditioning program training to prep for the Navy SEAL program.

He finished the program in April and was in his first week of basic underwater demolition/SEAL training when the accident occurred.

A Navy spokesman said the young seaman was doing an exercise where students tread water and swim in a pool while wearing diving masks and a camouflage utility uniform.

During that training, Lovelace went to the side of the pool and passed out.

Training instructors immediately began resuscitation efforts, but Lovelace never regained consciousness. He was taken to Sharp-Coronado Hospital and later pronounced dead.

The Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide after finding that Lovelace had been dunked at least twice by an instructor while struggling to tread water in full gear.

Lovelace had an enlarged heart that contributed to his death, according to the autopsy. The autopsy also discovered Lovelace had an abnormal coronary artery, that has been associated with sudden cardiac death, especially in athletes.

But in April of this year, authorities said the U.S. Navy would not pursue criminal charges in Lovelace's death, the family's attorney said.

In the letter sent to the Navy, the family's attorney stated that two Navy Commanders visited Lovelace’s home in Florida and told his father that Navy investigators found no criminal wrongdoing. They also said to him that a determination of whether Lovelace died in the line of duty could be expected any day.

But four months later, the letter stated the family is still waiting for that answer -- something the lawyer calls "both offensive and regrettable."

The attorney is asking that a line of duty determination be made within ten days. If that cannot be completed, the letter asks for the cause and reason for the delay.

"What happened to this family is tragic enough," the letter reads. "Setting aside the findings and decision not to prosecute the accused SEAL or SEALs, the Lovelace family is at the very least entitled to the dignity and respect of a determination as to whether Derek died in the line of duty."

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