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Mother of Marine Recruit Who Died During Training Says Upcoming Trial Is About ‘Abuse of Power and Authority’

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PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — Despite a second autopsy concluding Marine Pfc. Dalton Beals may have died from heart problems instead of heat injuries while training on Parris Island in 2021, his mother said the focus of the upcoming trial should be on a drill sergeant’s alleged negligence.

“The issue at hand is gross negligence and lack of integrity along with abuse of power and authority,” Beals’ mother, Stacie Beveridge Beals, said. “I am not a doctor nor am I a lawyer. I have no doubt that my son would be here today if Steven Smiley (Beals’ drill instructor) had done his due diligence as a drill instructor.”

The second autopsy was performed by pathologist Dr. Gerald Feigin, of Gloucester County, New Jersey. It was conducted at the family’s behest after they did not get answers from the Marines, Beveridge Beals said.

The first autopsy concluded that Beals died of hyperthermia while participating in the last leg of training known as the Crucible at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. In the famous final exercise before becoming a Marine, recruits are made to hike 48 miles over 54 hours in an environment that is meant to mimic war.

During the exercise, Beals, 19, had wandered from his team on a day when temperatures soared into the 90s. Fellow recruits described him as being “out of it” and “sluggish.” He was found unresponsive over an hour later and could not be resuscitated.

At least two other recruits were suffering from heat injuries that day and ambulances were called to take them to the hospital.

Second autopsy results

A Line of Duty Determination report and an investigation concluded Smiley, Beals’ drill instructor, was negligent in the recruit’s death.

In an interview with The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, Feigin said that Beals’ heart was riddled with scar tissue, indicating a heart condition that couldn’t be “predicted or prevented.”

“He was a ticking time bomb,” Feigin said. “It could have happened any time, anywhere. It was a natural death.”

Beals’ family members and athletic coaches previously told the newspapers that he never had any medical conditions and he had routinely participated in high-intensity sports like track, wrestling and football.

Beveridge Beals also questioned why, if her son had heart issues, the Marines’ physical exams did not detect it.

The trial, almost two years in the making and originally scheduled for April, has been delayed until June following these findings.

Currently, it is slated to begin on June 19 until July 7 though those dates are subject to change, said Maj. Philip Kulczewski, a Parris Island spokesperson.

The upcoming trial

In the Line of Duty Determination report, recruits reported that they had been discouraged by their drill instructor from seeking medical attention. They said he mocked and berated them throughout training using profane nicknames, which investigators said had a “dehumanizing effect.”

Both recruits and drill instructors are educated on how to avoid heat injuries and have protocols in place to modify uniforms and training based on the heat. Despite this, according to previous reporting from the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, Beals’ drill instructor intensified training.

In November 2022, Smiley was charged with negligent homicide; dereliction of duty resulting in death; cruelty, oppression, or maltreatment of subordinates, and obstruction of justice.

At an arraignment hearing in December 2022, Smiley did not enter a plea deal. The case has been assigned to the highest level of Marine court martial with Judge Lt. Col. Adam Workman presiding.

Capt. Brentt McGee, one of Smiley’s attorneys, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

The trial delay, said Beals’ mother, has been “frustrating” and shows there “needs to be more accountability” within the military. Since her son’s death, Beveridge Beals has worked with the group Save Our Service Members, which speaks up on behalf of men and women injured or killed in action or due to negligence.

“There definitely needs to be accountability and change,” she said. “There’s just more and more stories. (We) advocate and push for changes, but that (work) is going to be a lifetime thing.”

Since Beals’ death, at least three other Marines died at the base including Pfc. Noah Evans, a 21-year-old from Decatur, Georgia. Evans died on April 18 during a physical fitness test.


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