Families React to Verdict in Recruit Drowning - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/23/06

Families React to Verdict in Recruit Drowning

Staff Sgt. Nadya Lopez Staff Sgt. Nadya Lopez

What's next for the Parris Island swim instructor cleared of negligent homicide? The military charged Staff Sgt. Nadya Lopez in the death of recruit Jason Tharp, who drowned during water survival training last February. WTOC was there yesterday when the judge found her not guilty. It took the judge just a half an hour to reach his decision.

As Staff Sgt. Lopez came out of the courtroom a free woman, she still displayed a look of concern.  "I'm sorry for their loss, and I wish he hadn't died," she said.

"I was just relieved and a little sad because Jason is dead and I'm really sorry that he is," said Sonya Yassa, Staff Sgt. Lopez's mother.

Just after Tharp died, video aired of his senior drill instructor pushing him. The next day, Tharp died during training Lopez was supervising. Although most of the people at the pool that day say they heard Tharp scream and saw him bob up and down, they testified they never saw an unsafe condition.

And when the pathologist took the stand, she testified that Staff Sgt. Lopez was not responsible for his death.

"I'm sorry Mr. and Mrs. Tharp that you lost your son, but it's not my daughter's fault," said Yassa.

But the Tharps feel justice was not served, and like any parent who had lost a child, they were very emotional. "This is like our son just got killed again," said Johnny Tharp. "We have to go through this all over again."

After being on administrative duties, Staff Sgt. Lopez now plans to get on with her life, but isn't sure she'll stay in the Marines. If they ask her to train recruits again, would she? "I'm confident if I'm put in that position, I will continue my responsibilities as a Marine combat instructor of water survival," she said.

Because of the investigation into Tharp's death, a number of Marines were punished and new procedures and rules were implemented at the pool to prevent another death.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com

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