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Navy Recruit Had Fitness Exam Set for Day After His Death

June 8, 1988

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ A defense lawyer argued today that the drowning of a Navy recruit during training March 2 was an accident and suggested higher authorities were to blame for poor supervision of the program.

Retired Capt. Ferdinand Salomon, representing Lt. Thomas A. Torchia, led off closing arguments in a hearing to determine whether his client, commander of the Navy Rescue Swimmer School, and five enlisted instructors should face court-martial in the death of Airman Recruit Lee Mirecki.

″It was a tragic accident,″ Salomon said. ″This unfortunate incident has been blown out of all proportion by the media. Some good is going to come of this, but not by pillorying the fine young man at this table.″ The lawyer argued at the military proceeding that the Navy has refused repeated requests to release reports on the last two inspections made of the school, in 1983 and 1986. Torchia took command earlier this year.

″Why? Does the Navy have something to hide?″ Salomon asked. ″Did they find everything wonderful at the school ... or did they just forget about the school entirely?″

He said that rescue swimmers are an elite group and that higher authorities should have had interest in their training.

Torchia is charged with dereliction of duty, and the five instructors - 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 - are accused of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy.

The instructors are accused of forcing the 19-year-old recruit from Appleton, Wis., into the water when he tried to quit the course a second time.

A pathologist said Mirecki had a phobia about being pulled under water and was scared to death.

On Tuesday, the final witness, John W. Singer, the school’s top chief petty officer, testified that Mirecki was allowed to resume the water rescue course without taking a required medical exam.

″You cannot legally return to training status until that physical is held,″ Singer told the investigating officer, Cmdr. Daniel J. D’Alesio Jr.

Mirecki initially asked to drop out of the course a month before his death. A flight surgeon diagnosed the phobia and found him unfit for training, but a psychologist subsequently disagreed.

Mirecki, who later asked he be reinstated in the course, was erroneously restored to the training on the basis of the psychologist’s finding but without the required physical and the flight surgeon’s approval, testimony disclosed.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also introduced training records in an effort to show Torchia and the instructors knew or should have known about Mirecki’s phobia and psychological examination.

Conway testified that the records were available to the defendants in the school’s office and that Blevins had signed a counseling sheet including comments by Mirecki.

The recruit wrote that when he was 5 years old, his brother threw him in the water and had to rescue him. ″I don’t want to go through that again,″ Mirecki wrote.

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