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Innocent Plea in Recruit’s Swimming Death

July 25, 1988

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ A Navy swimming instructor today pleaded innocent to all charges against him in the death of a recruit during a training exercise.

Petty Officer Michael Combe is charged with involuntary manslaughter, battery and conspiracy to commit battery in the death of Airman Recruit Lee Mirecki, 19, of Appleton, Wis., described as being literally scared to death.

An Aug. 29 trial date was set for his court-martial.

The Navy has accused Combe of holding Mirecki’s head under water after other instructors had physically forced the recruit back into a swimming pool at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Mirecki was pushed back in after he panicked, climbed out and shouted that he was quitting the course.

Also facing court-martial is Lt. Thomas A. Torchia, officer in charge of the Navy Rescue Swimmer School at the time of Mirecki’s death. Torchia, who was on the telephone in his office overlooking the pool, is charged with dereliction of duty and scheduled for trial Aug. 22.

Four petty officers, all instructors, were charged with conspiracy to commit battery and have been given non-judicial punishments including reductions in rank and loss of pay.

Combe’s plea was accepted and the trial date set by Cmdr. Gregory R. Radlinski, a military judge.

Defense lawyers had asked to delay the trial until late September due to the illness of the wife of Combe’s military counsel, Marine Capt. James Royce. The judge said he may reconsider the request for a delay if Mrs. Royce’s condition doesn’t improve within a week.

Two civilian lawyers, Bill Wiltshire and Robert Heath Jr., joined Combe’s defense team last week.

After Mirecki was pushed back into the pool, Combe allegedly grasped him in a head-hold and dragged him into deep water.

The head-hold was part of a training exercise known as ″sharks and daisies″ in which instructors, playing the role of panicked air crash victims, would grab trainees who were supposed to pull them under water to break loose and then make a rescue.

At the investigative hearing, a pathologist testified Mirecki had a phobia about being dragged under water, which triggered heart failure followed by drowning.

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