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Records Show Instructors Could Have Known of Mirecki’s Fear

June 7, 1988

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Instructors could have known about a recruit’s fear of the water and his counseling before they allegedly forced him back into the water and he died, according to evidence introduced Tuesday.

The evidence consisted of records that include a counseling sheet filled out Feb. 3 when Airman Recruit Lee Mirecki tried to drop out. He died March 2 at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Mirecki wrote that he had a bad experience in the water as a child, an apparent reference to his near drowning at age 5 when his brother threw him into the water and then rescued him.

″I don’t want to go through that again,″ Mirecki wrote. ″I believe being a rescue swimmer is a great job, but not for me.″

The evidence was produced during a hearing to determine whether five rescue-swimmer school instructors and their commanding officer should face court-martial in the death of the 19-year-old recruit from Appleton, Wis.

Testimony ended late Tuesday afternoon, and closing arguments were scheduled Wednesday.

Other records show that Mirecki had been placed on hold for a psychological follow-up examination Feb. 4.

Chief Petty Officer Daniel J. Conway, student control chief at the school, testified the records were on file and that instructors and the officer-in- charge, Lt. Thomas A. Torchia, had access to them.

Torchia is charged with dereliction of duty. The instructors are charged with involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit battery. They are Petty Officers 1st Class Richard E. Blevins and David J. Smith and Petty Officers 2nd Class John W. Zelenock, Frankie D. Deaton and Michael W. Combe.

Earlier testimony indicated a flight surgeon had declared Mirecki medically unfit for the course a month before he died because he was suffering from a phobia of being pulled under water. He was sent back to the school after a clinical psychologist disagreed with the diagnosis.

On the day he died, Mirecki scrambled from the pool and said he wanted to quit the course. This was during an exercise in which instructors, acting the part of victims about to drown, grabbed students in headlocks from which they were supposed to extricate themselves and save the victims.

Testimony indicates Mirecki was forced back into the pool, then was pried away from a rope in the water and taken to the deep end where he collapsed.

A pathologist testified Monday that Mirecki literally was scared to death because of his phobia, which triggered heart failure and drowning.

Other evidence introduced Tuesday included a statement by Petty Officer John Bilinsky, an instructor-in-training, that defendant Combe had Mirecki in a headlock when the recruit passed out.

″I’m not going to say it’s incorrect,″ Bilinsky said, although earlier in his testimony he said he had trouble remembering exactly what happened.

At a news conference Tuesday in Appleton, U.S. Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis., accused the Navy of ″stonewalling″ in the investigation of Mirecki’s death and called upon the Navy to release key reports on the case.

Roth said he will seek to amend an appropriations bill next week, calling for a study on how the Navy can revamp its training to improve safety.

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