Colt Lax planned to discuss marriage with longtime girlfriend Kelli Bullard the day after a night out with another couple for dinner and a boat ride on Lake Murray.
Instead, that outing on May 1, 2010, turned to tragedy, as Lax tried in vain to save Bullard after their boat was struck by another.
Lax wept on the stand Wednesday as he testified in the reckless-homicide trial of Steven Kranendonk, 26, who was at the helm of that other boat. Bullard, 25, and her friend Amber Golden, 24, were killed in the collision.
Lax said he knew the crash was “very bad,” as he sought to help Bullard, Golden and Golden’s fiancé while the damaged boat took on water and started sinking.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“My baby is dying,” Lax said, recalling the moments after the crash. “I’m trying to do absolutely everything I can do to keep Kelli (Bullard) alive.
“I could not get a heartbeat. There was nothing.”
Kranendonk, of Irmo, faces a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors say, in the crash that Jonathan Harvey, Kranendonk’s lawyer, calls a tragic accident.
Golden had come from her home in the Huntsville, Ala., area to spend a weekend with fiancé Rob Christofoli, a friend of Lax and Bullard since childhood.
Lax said he was pointing out stars to Golden as they sat on lawn chairs in the back, while Christofoli drove the boat to a restaurant-bar at a Ballentine-area marina after the four had dinner at a Lexington restaurant.
As the boat approached the edge of a cove, Lax said, suddenly “I could see white,” and he recognized another boat was bearing down on the left side of their vessel.
He started to get up from his chair to try to grab Bullard, who sat on the front left of the boat, but couldn’t react quickly enough.
All four passengers remained in the boat after it was struck, Lax testified. He said he tried to pull the two women above the rising water in the sinking boat to perform CPR.
Lax said he could hear Christofoli, still in his seat, softly moaning for help.
He said he didn’t know what was going on with the other boat.
Friends on another boat who had planned to meet the two couples at the marina came by and pulled the disabled watercraft to shore while calling authorities for help, Lax said.
On the other boat, Harrison Hair and Jenna Breland had testified Tuesday that Kranendonk and two women were thrown from their boat into the lake and rescued a few minutes later by Hair.
Kranendonk, who has not testified, notified authorities about the crash and went to nearby Lake Murray Marina to get medical care for the bloody wounds those on his boat suffered after sweeping the area with a spotlight and seeing nothing, Hair and Breland said.
But in other testimony Wednesday, state natural resources investigators said Kranendonk told them he was uncertain if he hit another boat or something else.
Kranendonk was tested for intoxication about five hours after the crash because of the deaths involved, officer Rhett Bickley Jr. said.
That came after Kranendonk said he drank three alcoholic beverages a few hours earlier during an outing preceding the crash, Bickley said.
Kranendonk passed a field sobriety test using physical and verbal measurements before the blood test, another officer, Kevin Roosen said.
The blood test showed a reading of 0.11, above the 0.08 level legally considered impairment in operation of a vehicle.
Bickley and Roosen were among those who investigated the crash, one of two that occurred minutes apart in the heavily traveled northeast corner of the lake.
The pair of accidents spurred boating groups to a new safety campaign that urges watercraft drivers to slow down, stay sober and obey the rules of navigation.