An Irmo boater who was driving when two of his friends were killed in a 2010 crash on Lake Murray will not spend time in prison.
Steven Miller, 33, is on 18 months probation and assigned 120 hours of community service after pleading guilty to breach of the peace in connection with the late-night crash.
“Just because a tragedy occurs doesn’t necessarily attach criminal conduct to it,” Marion Moses, Miller’s lawyer, said Friday. “He lost his two best friends and mourned a long time.”
The plea was finalized Sept. 15 in Richland County Circuit Court after prosecutors brought lesser charges.
Miller initially was charged by state investigators with being impaired and failing to have the boat lit in the dark as required.
But it was impossible to prove he was impaired when the crash happened, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson said.
Plus, Johnson said, another boat hit Miller’s boat – not the other way around. A misdemeanor charge of boating under the influence is pending against the other boater, David Porth of Gilbert, court records show.
Blood-alcohol tests of Miller taken after the crash showed a level of 0.034 – less than half of what is considered the minimum for legal intoxication in operation of a vehicle – and other tests said the marijuana in his body could have been inhaled a few days earlier, Johnson said.
Miller and relatives also contended the lights on his boat were working when it left on the trip, and no one could be found to dispute that, Johnson said.
The deal reached was the best possible under the circumstances, Johnson said.
It took a long while for prosecutors to realize “there was no way for them to go forward” on the original charges and to come up with an alternative, Moses said.
The collision was one of two that occurred almost simultaneously late at night on May 1, 2010, making it the deadliest day on the 47,500-acre lake in recent memory.
Randall Carter and Matthew Howk died in the crash involving Miller’s vessel.
The pair were riding on the boat that Miller was operating en route to camping on an island when the crash occurred, authorities said.
“They had never been on the lake before,” Moses said.
Relatives of Carter and Howk consistently urged leniency, calling it a tragedy among friends.
“Our natural inclination is to judge and to do so fiercely,” Carter’s sister, Jennifer Harvey, said from her home in Houston. “However, when remorse is present as we, Randall's family, believe it is in Steven Miller’s case, there is no greater wisdom than kindness.”
Miller’s family paid Carter’s family $77,200 last spring in a civil settlement reached without Miller admitting wrongdoing, according to court records. Howk’s family did not pursue damages.
In the other crash that killed two women, Steven Kranendonk, 29, of Irmo is serving 10 years in prison after being convicted in March 2012 of reckless homicide.
That differs from Miller’s situation, because Kranendonk was driving the boat that collided with the one carrying the women, Johnson said.
“These two cases are very different,” the prosecutor said. “This case was quite complex, and I would caution you against simply comparing incidents and results.”
Kranendonk’s initial request for parole was denied in June after families of the victims opposed it. Kranendonk’s blood-alcohol reading, taken several hours after the accident, was 0.11 percent, according to court testimony.
State natural resources investigators who police the lake don’t question “the deals they (prosecutors) choose to do,” agency spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said.
The Department of Natural Resources, whose agents made the original arrest, was not consulted on Miller’s plea.
The outcry sparked by the crashes improved safety consciousness among boaters on the Midlands’ aquatic playground, McCullough said.
“It’s sad that a tragedy like this had to happen to increase that awareness,” McCullough said.
Still, calls for tougher state standards on reckless and careless operation of watercraft as well as requiring boaters to undergo basic training never gained momentum.
“The fact that anyone can operate a boat without being required to know the basic rules of boating – that’s amazing to me,” Johnson said.