It was an evening made for boating, warm and welcome after a cool spring.
Friends Kelli Bullard, 25, of Lexington and Amber Golden, 24, of Woodville, Ala., were among those with spring fever cruising Lake Murray last May 1.
They were on Lucky Strike, a boat operated by Robert Christofoli of Lexington, Golden’s fiance. Also on board was Bullard’s boyfriend, Colt Lax of Lexington.
Steven Kranendonk, 25, was on the water, too, that night, driving his father’s boat, Peacemaker, with three passengers.
Then, their paths crossed in a deadly collision that killed Bullard and Golden and injured Christofoli and Lax.
Three lawsuits shed possible light on what happened before and after that accident, alleging it occurred after Kranendonk consumed alcoholic beverages throughout the day.
After a stop at a lakefront restaurant, the lawsuits say, Kranendonk’s boat was traveling close to Susie Ebert Island about 11 p.m.
Kranendonk saw the Lucky Strike’s lights ahead and noticed the boat on navigation equipment beforehand, according to law enforcement reports and the lawsuits. Still, his boat slammed into the side of the boat and went over its top.
Kranendonk kept going after the crash.
The lawsuits claim he stopped at an unnamed marina, where he and unidentified passengers removed alcoholic beverages from the boat before law enforcement located him.
Christofoli, Lax and Bullard’s mother, Paula, are seeking damages from Kranendonk in civil lawsuits separate from the criminal charges.
Kranendonk, who lives near Irmo, is charged with two counts of felony boating under the influence of alcohol in connection with the deaths and one count of boating under the influence with great bodily harm for a crash survivor who was injured.
It’s likely he won’t go to trial on those charges for months.
State Natural Resources officials won’t say so far whether their investigation came to conclusions similar to those alleged in the three lawsuits.
“At some point, we’ll get into all that, but we can’t yet,” agency spokesman Robert McCullough said.
Tests show Kranendonk’s blood-alcohol level exceeded 0.11 percent, above the 0.08 percent reading considered impairment in operation of a boat, according to his arrest warrant, newly made public.
One of Kranendonk’s lawyers says the portrait in the lawsuits is part of a series of events that are yet to be revealed fully.
“My client and his family understand that his tragic accident has impacted many lives,” said Jonathan Harvey, Kranendonk’s lawyer for the criminal charges. “I am confident that when the entire matter is presented, not just allegations from a lawsuit, that the entire accident will be placed in its proper perspective.”
The lawsuits outlining the alleged activities before and after the crash also seek damages from Kranendonk’s father, Michael, the boat’s owner.
Christofoli also is seeking damages from the Rusty Anchor restaurant in Ballentine, alleging it served alcohol to Kranendonk shortly before the crash. Christian Stegmaier, the restaurant’s lawyer, declined comment.
Robert McKenzie, the lawyer for both Kranendonks in the damages lawsuits, is seeking to prevent allegations about alcohol consumption and removal of beverages from the boat from being used in court proceedings. Those claims are “extremely prejudicial” and irrelevant, he said. Only the results of the blood-alcohol test and the way it was given should be considered, he said.
In lawsuits involving damages, there is “a lower burden of proof” than for criminal charges, according to Dick Harpootlian, an attorney and former prosecutor who is not involved in the matter.
“A lot of evidence not admissible in a criminal case as a violation of rights and prejudicial can be usable in a civil case (seeking damages),” he said.
Those seeking damages prefer criminal charges be settled first, since details from those proceedings can be used to bolster their efforts, he said.
For Kranendonk, it’s unclear whether the criminal charges or civil demands for damages will be decided first.
Christofoli declined to discuss the crash. Efforts to reach the other victims and their attorneys — Ashby Jones for Bullard and Lax and Brad Hewett for Christofoli — were unsuccessful last week. The accident was one of two fatal crashes in the northeast corner of the lake that occurred minutes apart May 1, spurring concerns about increasing dangers after sunset on the 47,500-acre lake.
In the other collision, Steven Miller of Irmo is charged with two felony counts of boating under the influence of alcohol. He drove a jon boat carrying Matthew Kyle Howk and Randall Carter, both of whom died after a collision with another boat operated by David Porth.
Porth also is charged with boating while under the influence.
No lawsuit for damages has been filed in that crash. Legal proceedings for Miller and Porth are pending.