It was a moonless spring night on the dark waters of Lake Murray when a boater came upon the aftermath of what authorities say was a drunken-boating collision on the huge lake’s deep waters.
The man, Keith Corley, remained calm that warm May 1 night, but he grew increasingly frustrated trying to get help for two severely injured 20-something girlfriends who would die of head trauma from their boat’s impact with a 23-foot boat named Peacemaker, powered by a 225 horsepower engine.
“Somebody hit this boat, and we need somebody out here now,” Corley tells an emergency dispatcher who is quizzing him about the location of the accident. “There are people hurt bad,” he said, copies of 911 tapes released Wednesday to The State newspaper show. The calls illustrate the isolation of boaters in an emergency situation, even though they are on one of the busiest parts of the lake on a weekend.
Corley knew all four people in the boat, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said.
“I’m calling 911,” Corley said, apparently to someone on his boat, with the dispatcher still listening. “I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to move them.” Corley, who is not identified on the tape by his full name, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Sitting on black water 65 to 85 feet deep, he recites landmarks and local roads near Susie Ebert Island to the dispatcher.
She has trouble figuring out where Corley is and where to send paramedics. “I can’t send an ambulance out to the middle of the water,” she says. “You’re going to have to get back to land.”
The site of the collision becomes a double calamity 10 minutes later and about 600 feet away. A second, separate accident would take two more lives.
Corley tells the dispatcher he will tow the first boat — called the Lucky Strike — and the two women and two men on board while he desperately searches for the nearest house.
He finds one and docks the boat. But no one answers the knocks at the door, or his calls of, “Hey! Hello!”
The dispatcher suggests looking for a mailbox with an address or a letter inside that would direct rescuers to a specific house. “I’m trying my best,” Corley says, his voice growing exasperated.
“I can’t find anything. There’s no mailbox. There’s no nothin’.” He utters an expletive.
A few minutes after Corley’s call, a second 911 call arrives from someone reluctant to get involved.
“Hey, can you call DNR to come on the water for some drunken boaters at Lake Murray Marina?” the woman, who is not identified on the tape, says.
A dispatcher says she will transfer the call to the Natural Resources agency. “You can just call them,” the caller says. “That’s all I need to say. Thanks. Bye.”
The injuries in the collisions would prove much worse than first reports of bruises and broken bones.
Girlfriends Kelli Bullard, 25, of Lexington, and Amber Golden, 24, of Woodville, Ala., did not survive the first collision, which happened about 10:55 p.m.
Matthew Kyle Howk, 21, of Columbia, and Randall Carter, 36, of Irmo, perished in the second.
Authorities have charged Steven Kranendonk, 25, of Irmo with two counts of felony boating under the influence in the collision that killed the women. He steered the boat that struck the boat carrying the friends.
Steven Miller, 25, of Irmo faces the same charges. Authorities said Miller steered a 16-foot johnboat that collided with another johnboat. Miller’s boat did not have its night lights on, they said.
David Porth, 24, of the Gilbert area, drove the other johnboat, which was 23 feet long. Porth is charged with boating while intoxicated, a lesser charge. He stopped his boat after the impact and cooperated with investigators, authorities said.