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Update: Navy says 4 will be arraigned Wednesday in diver-death case

Oct. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo., drowned on Feb. 26 while working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Four sailors have been charged in the deaths.
Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo., drowned on Feb. 26 while working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Four sailors have been charged in the deaths. (Army via AP)
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Four Navy divers from Little Creek, Va.-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 will be arraigned Wednesday at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on charges stemming from their involvement of the deaths of two Navy divers during Feb. 26 training dives in Aberdeen, Md.

Lt. Nathan Potter, spokesman for Explosive Ordnance Group 2, told Navy Times the divers will be arraigned together, but are expected to face separate special courts-martial stemming from the investigation into the deaths of Navy Diver 1st Class (DSW) James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and ND2 (DSW) Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo.

Potter said the sailor’s names and the charges against them will be released after the arraignment process. The trials most likely won’t occur until sometime in November or December, he said.

The four were among five divers who were taken to captain’s mast in August; one decided to accept nonjudicial punishment while the others refused, as is their right under military law.

Though the Navy has yet to release the identities of the four, two are expected to be Senior Chief Navy Diver (MDV) James Burger and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Smith, the leaders of the Little Creek-based MDSU detachment, a source close to the case confirmed.

Burger and Smith faced an Article 32 hearing in June in front of Capt. Holiday Hanna, former force judge advocate for Naval Surface Forces Atlantic in Norfolk, Va. They stood accused of involuntary manslaughter.

Smith and Burger were in charge of MDSU 2’s Company 2-3 and had taken their divers to Aberdeen’s “Super Pond” as part of pre-deployment training. Though autopsies concluded Reyher and Harris died of accidental drowning, the actual circumstances may never be known.

During the Article 32, it was put into question whether Smith and Burger were cleared to order a 150-foot dive — 20 feet deeper than normally authorized. It also was questioned whether Harris and Reyher should have been using surface-supplied oxygen instead of scuba equipment.

The sailors’ decision to plead their case to a courts-martial isn’t surprising, as the lawyers defending Burger and Smith at the Article 32 hearing said at the time that their clients were being made scapegoats, and that the deaths of Reyher and Harris were the result of a tragic accident.

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