Heat ruled killer of Arkansas guardsman who died during training exercise

No criminal fault, letter says

FORT SMITH -- An Arkansas Army National Guard member died from hyperthermia in June during a training exercise at Fort Chaffee, according to the Sebastian County prosecutor.

Sgt. Sylvester Bruce Cline, 32, of Pine Bluff died June 14 at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith after showing signs of heatstroke. He sought medical attention after manning a machine gun position in temperatures that reached 104 degrees with the heat index.

Cline had been undergoing training at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center since June 4 as a member of Company A 39th Brigade Support Battalion.

In a letter to Arkansas State Police Cpl. Patrick Schmidt released Wednesday, Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue said an autopsy concluded that Cline died accidentally from "environmental hyperthermia."

Hyperthermia is an overheating of the body.

"Considering the totality of the circumstances and the applicable law, no criminal offense has been committed," Shue wrote. "There is no evidence to suggest any criminal responsibility for the tragic death of Sgt. Sylvester Bruce Cline."

In his letter reviewing Schmidt's investigation, Shue recounted events of Cline's last day.

Cline and other members of his unit arrived about 5:30 a.m. at Range 100 at the training center, where they ate breakfast, received a safety briefing and began training.

Because of the heat, a 400-gallon portable water carrier, called a water buffalo, was taken to the range and troops took water breaks throughout the day. Two ambulances, six medics and two ice dumps were on hand during the day.

Cline had left his hydration pack in the transport truck but shared water with a fellow Guard member at the machine gun emplacement. He retrieved his water pack from the truck later.

Cline was sweating along with everyone else but continued to drink water. After lunch, he began to suffer leg cramps and took breaks in a shaded area.

About 4:15 p.m., he walked to an ambulance. While in the ambulance, his condition began to worsen and his mental status faltered.

Cline arrived at the troop medical clinic at 5:15 p.m., where he was able to talk but not walk. Medics began cardiopulmonary resuscitation at 5:40 p.m. and transported him by helicopter to Mercy Hospital, arriving at 6 p.m. while continuing resuscitation. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:17 p.m.

Shue noted there were five other Guard members who required treatment that day because of the heat.

Cline enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard in 2002 and participated in a combat deployment to Iraq with the 39th Infantry Brigade in 2008. He was awarded the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other awards and decorations, according to the Guard.

State Desk on 09/22/2016