Crime & Courts

3 weeks after teen killed in Beaufort County boat crash, mother sues bar and others

A family member of the teen who was killed in the Feb. 24 boat crash near Parris Island filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against a bar and a convenience store, as well as the hosts of a party in Beaufort where all six boaters are said to have been earlier that night.

Renee Beach, the mother of Mallory Beach, 19, is suing Luther’s on Bay Street in Beaufort, Parker’s 55 convenience store in Ridgeland and homeowners Kristy and James Wood, alleging all three provided or sold alcoholic beverages to the boaters, who were between the ages of 18 and 20.

“The parents hope that this lawsuit shines a light on the significant dangers posed by the sale or service of alcohol to minors,” Beach’s attorney, Mark Tinsley of the Gooding and Gooding law firm, said, “as well as the dangers of providing children with a place to illegally consume alcohol to the point of intoxication and then let them drive.”

A woman answering the phone at Luther’s Rare & Well Done said employees have been told not to comment on the boat crash. She also refused to transfer a reporter with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette to a manager.

Greg Parker, founder and CEO of Parker’s 55 issued a statement Thursday, writing that his company takes “the responsibility of selling alcohol very seriously” including “strict policies and procedures ... to make sure we sell alcohol only to individuals who have proof that they are of legal drinking age. Every member of the Parker’s team undergoes alcohol training, and we regularly send mystery shoppers to our stores to make sure team members are carding customers who purchase alcohol.”

The lawsuit alleges that on Feb. 23, Parker’s 55 unlawfully sold alcoholic beverages to a person under 21 who then shared those beverages with others under 21. None of the boaters besides Mallory Beach are named in the lawsuit.

Later that day, the same group of people under 21 went to a party at the Woods’ home in Beaufort, where they were served alcoholic beverages, according to the lawsuit.

“The Woods knew or should reasonably have known these people were between the ages of 18 and 20” and they then let them “operate a boat with their faculties and judgment grossly and dangerously impaired,” the lawsuit reads.

After they left the Woods’ house, the group drove a boat to Luther’s, where two of them were served “alcohol, despite their being underage and intoxicated ...,” the lawsuit states.

It was after leaving Luther’s that one of the boaters crashed the boat into the Archer’s Creek bridge, ejecting Mallory Beach from the boat, causing her death, the lawsuit says.

The boat crashed into a piling of a small bridge around 2:20 a.m. just outside the main entrance to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Because the bridge spans a stretch of water about 40 yards wide, boats must slow down to thread their way between the pilings.

Beach was missing for a week before her body was found March 3 in a marsh about 5 miles from where the crash occurred. She died from drowning and trauma, according to the Beaufort County coroner.

The remaining five boaters appeared to be “grossly intoxicated,” according to a Port Royal Police Department report. All five were also injured in the crash, a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report said.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources are investigating the incident but, as of yet, have not brought charges

Law enforcement did not give sobriety tests to occupants of the boat because a driver had not been identified and two suspected drivers had attorneys soon after the crash, SCDNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough has previously said.

SCDNR has yet to speak to the two suspected drivers, he said Wednesday.

The boat crashed “at a high rate of speed,” according to first-responders speaking to dispatchers in 911 audio.

Lawsuits that allege establishments have a duty to make sure patrons who become intoxicated don’t leave the premises and endanger themselves or others are called “dram shop” lawsuits.

In recent years in South Carolina, dram shop lawsuits have forced bars to pay millions of dollars to the estates of people who have died after being struck by a person who left the bar in an intoxicated condition. Most dram shop lawsuits, however, involve cars or motorcycles — not boats.

Tinsley said law enforcement has been keeping the family informed of its investigation.

“They have done an exceptional job in gathering the evidence, nearly all of which has not been made known to the public,” he said.

The 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has requested the case be assigned to another solicitor’s office or the state Attorney General’s Office because three of the boat’s occupants are related to employees of Stone’s office. This includes employee, Randolph Murdaugh III, a former 14th Circuit Solicitor, who continues to work under contract for the office, trying criminal cases.

The boat, a 17-foot center console, is registered to Alexander Murdaugh, according to SCDNR.

A prosecuting agency has yet to be assigned to the case, McCullough said this week.

Beach has been described by family and friends as always having a smile, being kind and a lover of animals.

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