S.C. boating toll:87 deaths in 4 years

Boating deaths show more safety needed on SC lakes, families, law enforcement say

ccope@thestate.comMay 17, 2014 

  • Most dangerous lakes

    Boating deaths, by lake, 2010-12*

    Lake Murray: 9

    Lake Marion: 7

    Lake Hartwell: 4

    Across the state, by year

    87 people died in S.C. boating incidents from 2010 to 2013.

    2010

    26

    2011

    19

    2012

    14

    2013

    28

    *Latest information available

    SOURCE: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

  • An 11-year-old’s legacy

    Drew Smith died in July of 1997 after an intoxicated boater rammed into the boat he and his father were fishing from in a Lake Murray cove.

    The following year, members of the Lexington High School swim team decided to honor the 11-year-old, and about 30 people made the two-mile swim from the Irmo side to the Lexington side of the lake to raise awareness of boating and swimming safety.

    Drew’s death prompted lawmakers to pass tougher boating-under-the-influence legislation that eventually became known as Drew’s Law. The annual dam swim has grown each year, recently attracting more than 200 swimmers.

    Tim Flach

Karen and Randall Smith will never again see their son’s smile.

Paula and Jerry Bullard will never again see their daughter’s brown eyes.

The family and friends of dozens of others will never again see their loved ones because they died in boating incidents on South Carolina waterways from 2010 to 2013.

“What can a father say?” Randall Smith said about the loss of his 11-year-old son, Drew Smith, who died after a speedboat smashed into the boat the two were fishing from on Lake Murray. “Will this help heal my life, which has been thoroughly destroyed?”

The Smiths and Bullards told their stories to the families of other victims of boating accidents who gathered Saturday at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Lexington to honor those who have been lost as a new boating season is about to begin.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reports that there have been 87 fatalities in the four-year period.

Congested waterways seem unavoidable as South Carolina’s lakes become more developed and attract a greater number of boaters.

But boating tragedies could be prevented with boater education, wearing life jackets and strengthening the consequences of boating-under-the-influence laws, said Andy Hyman, president of the Lake Murray Association.

There’s always more that can be done, he said.

More to do

Drew Smith’s death prompted lawmakers to pass tougher boating-under-the-influence legislation that eventually became known as Drew’s Law.

The tougher laws have helped, say agents who patrol Lake Murray.

But, as they head into the prime of boating season, boaters should do inspections on their boats and ensure they have all of the correct safety equipment, said Lt. Mark McColman, with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

He also encouraged using resources, such as the DNR and Coast Guard websites.

Few lake lovers will forget that terrible spring of 2010, when four people were killed on Lake Murray in two boating collisions just minutes apart.

“When I lost Kelli, I lost me,” said Jerry Bullard, whose 25-year-old daughter died in one of those crashes.

It has taken four years to have the tiniest bit of normalcy in their lives, Jerry Bullard said.

“My heart will never beat as strongly or as smoothly as it did,” Paula Bullard said.

The pair of fatal crashes that day in 2010 occurred minutes apart, between Susie Ebert and Flotilla islands in the heavily traveled northeastern corner of the lake, near Ballentine. It was the deadliest day on the 47,500-acre lake in recent memory.

Killed in the first wreck were Bullard and a friend, Amber Golden, 24, of Woodville, Ala. Four people on their boat went into the water after being hit by another boat.

Killed in the second wreck, which happened at 11:05 p.m. – just 10 minutes after the first – were friends Matthew Kyle Howk, 21, of Columbia and Randall Carter, 36, of Irmo. Investigators determined the boat in which they were riding did not have its lights operating as required for nighttime navigation when it collided with another boat.

Both crashes were alcohol-related.

Penalties for BUI include a fine of up to nearly $600, up to 30 days in jail and loss of boating privileges pending completion of safety training. Penalties for felony BUI include from one to 25 years in prison.

A memory

During Saturday’s service, the names of victims were read aloud and family members stood when the bell tolled for their loved ones.

Life-size cardboard silhouettes surrounded the sanctuary representing those who had been lost. Family members crowded the church, but some of the empty pews would have been filled if those who had died in boating incidents had been there instead of being represented by cutouts.

The Wolfe family stood for Logan Wolfe, who was 23 when he died in October while fishing with friends on Lake Hartwell. Logan Wolfe was sitting on a fishing platform outside of the railing of a pontoon boat when he had a seizure, passed out and fell overboard, said his mother, Carol Wolfe, of Richmond Hill, Ga.

She said if Logan Wolfe had been wearing a life jacket and known that he was not supposed to be outside of the railing on that kind of boat, then it might have saved his life.

She also said there should be safety courses for those who purchase boats.

Boaters have to slow down and think, McColman said, to prevent tragic accidents.

“You will never understand how important a moment is until it becomes a memory,” Paula Bullard said.

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