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2 Navy members face military criminal charges in drowning deaths of 2 divers

Two members of a Virginia-based Navy dive unit face military criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty in the February drowning deaths of two divers at an Army facility test pond near Baltimore, officials said Wednesday.

Navy officials said the two defendants, whom they haven't identified, are a chief warrant officer 3 and a senior chief petty officer in Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2. The sailors had a supervisory role in the events at the pond, according to Navy officials in Washington who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.

They also belonged to the same unit as the victims, Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 28, of Caldwell, Ohio, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 23, of Gladstone, Mo., said Lt. Cdr. Charity Hardison of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in Virginia Beach, Va.

The two sailors drowned Feb. 26 during routine diving operations at an underwater weapons-testing facility, dubbed the Super Pond, at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The Army installation is about 20 miles northeast of Baltimore.

Their deaths came weeks after the Jan. 30 death of civilian technician George Lazzaro at the same pond. Lazzaro was doing underwater maintenance of the facility. His cause of his death hasn't been released.

The defendants will face an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury investigation, on May 21 at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. The hearing will determine whether the charges will be referred to a court-martial, dealt with administratively or dismissed.

"The command is saying, `We think there's enough evidence for these charges,"' Hardison said. "An investigating officer will look at the information and decide whether the charges are substantiated."

Hardison said the command won't disclose the defendants' names until the May 21 hearing.

The Navy divers' deaths were investigated by Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. A spokesman for the explosive ordnance unit referred calls to Hardison. An NCIS spokesman didn't immediately reply to an email from The Associated Press for information about the investigation.

The death of Lazzaro, 41, of Nottingham, is being investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Army units didn't immediately respond to AP queries. An OSHA spokeswoman said that agency's investigation isn't complete.

The Super Pond is used to conduct shock testing of vessels, submarine systems and munitions. With a bottom measuring 300 feet in diameter and a maximum depth of 150 feet, the facility also has been used in testing torpedoes, missiles, warheads, amphibious and remotely controlled vehicles, underwater gun firing and acoustics.

The sailors belonged to an expeditionary mobile unit whose salvage operations have included TWA Flight 800, Swiss Air Flight 111, the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.

The unit also provided damage assessments and repairs on the USS Cole and participated in humanitarian missions following Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti.

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