Officials are keeping secret emergency calls for help in two May 1 boat crashes on Lake Murray in which four people died.
Officials rejected a request by The State newspaper to listen to the 911 calls handled by city-managed dispatchers in the pair of late-night collisions.
“Release of any material may corrupt or undermine the ongoing investigation,” the unsigned letter said. It did not say who made the decision.
State natural resources officers, who are handling the investigation, asked that the recordings not be made public now, DNR spokesman Lt. Robert McCullough said.
“We want to hold on to that information until we decide on charges,” he said.
It’s the second denial of a Freedom of Information law request to review material related to the crashes. Natural resources officials last week turned down The State’s request for incident reports.
“I seriously doubt there’s anything in there that can impede the investigation,” Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, said of the calls for help. “What are they trying to hide?”
In contrast, the city of Columbia released 911 calls related to an accident involving Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin on April 30, nine days after his vehicle collided with another vehicle downtown.
“It was decided by the police department that it could be released, that it wouldn’t harm the investigation,” city police spokesman Brick Lewis said.
Investigators are trying to piece together what happened in the boat crashes partly by looking at three things, which McCullough provided some detail about Tuesday:
If any boat driver was intoxicated. Blood-alcohol tests were taken and sent to the State Law Enforcement Division for analysis, he said.
If all boats were lit as required. Some equipment was sent to SLED to determine if the crashes extinguished the lights, he said.
If a check of global location equipment on some boats can help determine speed, he said.
The collisions occurred minutes apart shortly after 10 p.m. between Susie Ebert and Flotilla islands in a heavily traveled part of the northeast area of the lake.
In the first crash, friends Kelli Bullard of Lexington and Amber Golden of Woodville, Ala., were killed while riding with two men when their boat was struck by another carrying two couples.
Less than an hour later, Matthew Kyle Howk of Columbia died shortly after the johnboat he was in was hit by another boat carrying three men. Randall Carter of Irmo, also in the johnboat, died a day later. The two were on a fishing and camping trip, relatives said.