The Navy has charged five instructors at the naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a recruit witnesses say was forced to continue a water rescue drill despite his known fear of water, officials said Friday.
Navy spokesman Lt. Lee Saunders also said the lieutenant in command of the the Rescue Swimmer School has been charged with dereliction of duty in connection with the death March 2 of 19-year-old Navy recruit Lee William Mirecki.The charges say Lt. Thomas Tor-chia "negligently failed to ensure" that Mirecki was allowed to drop out of the "dangerous training exercise" as he is allowed to do under Navy regulations, Saunders said.
He said Torchia was aware that Mirecki was afraid of water and had previously tried to exercise his rights to "drop on request" from the school's exercises.
Legal documents describe a frightened young recruit forced to continue a water rescue drill despite loud and vehement protests that he wanted to stop the voluntary exercise because he was "physically exhausted or afraid to continue, or both," said Saunders.
At the time of his death, Mirecki was participating in a life-saving drill, which requires students to subdue thrashing victims and swim with them to safety, the spokesman for the Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The sister of the Wisconsin Navy recruit says his classmates told her they were powerless to prevent his death and feared for their own lives.
"Some have called anonymously and others have given their names even though they are under orders not to speak and could face court-martial," Lynn Johansen said in a telephone interview Friday from her Appleton, Wis., home.
She said since his death, families of many recruits have been calling her.
"Most of these people want to remain anonymous for fear that their sons or daughters will suffer repercussions. And it is very frightening to think that any other families have gone through this," she said.
Johansen said one of the instructors brought Lee's body home and reassured the family that nothing unusual happened that day.
"And this is the guy that the other (recruits) have told me was the harsh-est of all," she said.
The Navy charges also say one instructor forced Mirecki's head under the water while another grabbed his shirt, holding him down, Saunders said.