Joel Barry Dykes, 25, will graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy next week, four years and a month behind his classmates.

His scheduled 1979 graduation and commission as an ensign were scuttled by a Navy conduct board after Dykes was involved in a fatal car crash during his senior year. A few days before graduation, with all his course work completed, he was expelled from the academy and ordered to sign on as a Navy enlisted man. He filed suit in federal court to fight the order.

A classmate and passenger, Daniel Luce, 22, of West Orange, N.J., died when Dykes drove his Corvette off an academy seawall and into the Severn River the night of Dec. 16, 1978.

According to police records the two had been drinking in Annapolis and caused a minor car accident in town earlier that night. The other driver chased Dykes' car onto academy grounds, where Dykes lost him. Dykes then doused his lights and chased the other car, police said. He reportedly was traveling about 60 miles an hour when the fatal accident occurred. Dykes swam to safety but Luce died.

Dykes was charged with involuntary manslaughter by the conduct board, but was found guilty of reduced charges of reckless driving and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Naval Academy spokesman Dennis Boxx said the case was heard by the Navy rather than in civil court because the incident occurred on government property. He said Dykes refused the board's order to sign on as an enlisted man and sued in U.S. District Court, claiming he had a right to legal counsel at the hearings. The court ruled that Dykes did not have to serve as an enlisted man and told the parties to seek administrative remedies.

Dykes remained at home in Orlando, Fla., on leave without pay, until last fall when his application to be reappointed as a Navy midshipman was conditionally approved.

He was assigned to a ship as an enlisted man for six months to a year, with the promise of readmission to the Academy if recommended by his commanding officer and approved by the Navy secretary. Dykes served aboard the USS Santa Barbara, Boxx said, and won the recommendation.

Boxx said Dykes had "a good record at the academy and was a good student."

He will graduate here June 24 and will begin Navy flight training in Pensacola next year.

"There was never any point in there where I wanted to lose my temper or anything," he told UPI in Orlando. "I just want to get to flight school. It's all behind me now. It's been a long ordeal for my family."