DNR investigator talks boating safety and investigative process after accidents
The driver of the powerboat that collided Friday with a bass boat on Lake Murray, killing two people, passed a field sobriety test shortly after the crash, a spokesman for the investigating agency said Tuesday.
Bruce Dyer, at the helm of a 32-foot Intrepid, was taken to shore by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. There, officers conducted a battery of tests to determine if he was impaired, department spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said.
“He passed the field sobriety test,” McCullough said.
Investigators continue to examine the collision, and findings could be two weeks away or more, the spokesman said.
Authorities have not ruled out alcohol as a factor in the crash. They are waiting the results of toxicology testing on Danny Phillips, who was driving the other boat, a 16-foot bass boat. Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said it typically takes seven to 10 business days to get toxicology results.
Phillips, 37, and longtime friend Shawn Lanier, 28, died from the trauma of the collision that happened around 11 p.m., Fisher has said. Dyer’s boat ran over the top of Phillips’ boat, officials have said. Three people were on each boat.
Phillips’ boat was headed to a final location on the lake to end a fishing trip when the crash happened, Phillips’ father told The State newspaper on Monday.
Department of Natural Resources investigators use many of the same tests as traffic officers to determine if a driver is under the influence, including hand-eye coordination and counting backward, McCullough said. Because one of the tests involves standing on one leg, officers typically take a boat operator to shore to conduct the test on solid ground, he said.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, the agency has not provided details of the investigation such as which specific tests Dyer underwent or whether he was asked to submit breath or blood samples.
All boating fatalities, by law, must be investigated by the agency, which has investigators trained to reconstruct collisions, McCullough said.
Details have been slow to trickle out in the days since the crash, which happened north of Dreher Island.
Each boat was equipped with a GPS device, which can give investigators valuable clues about a watercraft’s speed and direction of travel at the time of a collision, McCullough said. Officers have received court permission to get access the devices.
“Also, with newer motors, they have what is considered a black box, kind of like on vehicles,”
Department investigator Ben Thomas, speaking generally about the investigative process, said, “We can download that information and find out exactly what that motor was doing before, during and after the collision.
“The biggest contributing factor to boating incidents in South Carolina is an improper lookout – people not looking where they’re going,” Thomas said.
Staff photographer Gerry Melendez contributed.