Marine Trainer May Face Military Trial

A water survival instructor at the Parris Island Marine Corps Depot (search) could face trial in the drowning of a 19-year-old recruit, and an investigation report released Tuesday said the death could have been prevented.

An Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, will be held in the Feb. 8 death of Jason Robert Tharp (search) of Sutton, W.Va. Depending on the outcome, the instructor could face a trial by court-martial.

The instructor's name was not immediately released because no formal charges have been filed, said base spokesman Maj. Ken White (search).

Tharp's father, Johnny Tharp, received the report Monday.

"We just hope there is going to be justice," the senior Tharp said. "They did admit there were people who did stuff they weren't supposed to do. That was a little bit of relief there because we thought they might try to cover it up."

Tharp was in his fifth week of his 12-week Marine training and apparently unhappy. He wrote home seven times that he wanted out of the Marine Corps, in which he had enlisted to get money for college.

As a result of his drowning, a water survival certified officer has assumed duties at the pool to improve supervision. Each year, more than 20,000 recruits pass through the pool. The last drowning was in 1991.

The investigative report, which had names blacked out, concluded the water survival instructor either failed to recognize or ignored indications Tharp was "too tired and/or overcome by fear to continue" training in the pool on his fifth and final day of water survival training.

It also said the instructor's "demeanor and actions" at the time "clearly indicates" the instructor was frustrated, which clouded his instructor's judgment.

Fellow Marines went to rescue Tharp and he was lucid with his arms on a floatation device when they pulled him across the pool, an autopsy report said. But by the time he was out of the water he had become unresponsive and stopped breathing, it said.

The investigative report also recommended disciplinary action against three other Marines for actions related to Tharp's training but not connected to the drowning.

One allegedly threatened to have Tharp thrown into the poll if he did not get in on his own. A second, a drill instructor, grabbed Tharp by the shirt the day before the drowning and struck him on the forearm, and the third was a training officer who saw and failed to report that incident, the report said.