Marine Instructor Found Not Guilty in Recruit Drowning
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2006 A Marine instructor accused of negligence in the 2005 drowning of a recruit was found not guilty by a military court at Parris Island, S.C., late yesterday.
The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Nadya Lopez, 27, began Feb. 21, Maj. Guillermo Canedo, a spokesman at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, told American Forces Press Service today during a telephone interview.
"The court found that there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction under the charge of negligent homicide against Lopez," Canedo said.
Lopez, a 12-year Marine veteran, pleaded not guilty in the events surrounding the Feb. 8, 2005, drowning death of 19-year-old recruit Jason Tharp, who died during water survival training at the base, Canedo said.
"The accidental drowning death of recruit Jason Tharp has been thoroughly, completely investigated and considered in court," Canedo said. No one else, he said, is pending charges in connection with the incident.
If convicted, Lopez could have faced the maximum punishment of three years confinement, a dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances, Canedo said. Marine Maj. Mark J. Griffith, a military judge, presided over the trial, he said.
Tharp's death prompted a series of investigations, Canedo said, after which the charge of negligent homicide was brought against Lopez at an Article 32 hearing under the military's system of law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. An Article 32 hearing can be compared to a civilian grand jury hearing.
Over the course of the investigations, several other Marine instructors at Parris Island were found to have committed possible acts of misconduct or violations of standard operating procedure, Canedo said. Most of those violations weren't related to the Tharp incident, he said.
However, one instructor struck Tharp on the chest with his elbow the day before the recruit's death, Canedo said, while another indicated that he would throw Tharp into the pool if he didn't get in. All were charged and disciplined through nonjudicial punishment for violations of the standard operating procedure, Canedo said.
Canedo said the coroner's report attributed Tharp's death to "drowning, best characterized as accidental."
Tharp was in his 25th day of training and on his fifth day of water survival training at the time of his death, Canedo said.
Eighteen video cameras have been installed in the base's pool complex since Tharp's death, and a Marine Corps water survival instructor-qualified officer now oversees pool management and safety, Canedo said. About 500 recruits are given water training at the Parris Island pool each week, he said. About 18,000 Marine recruits undergo training at Parris Island each year.
The last time a recruit died during water training was during the early 1990s, Canedo said. That person, he noted, had a heart condition.
The Marine Corps takes pride on taking care of its people, including recruits, Canedo said. "We demand the utmost professionalism and discipline from those who have earned the right to train recruits," ha said. "The Marine Corps is, at its core, a brotherhood where Marines look out for and take care of one another.
"That said, recruit training is exceedingly safe, but not risk-free. The business of training for war implies risks that we all accept and work to mitigate," he said.