Beaufort News

Walterboro men accused of stealing boat, causing chase down river, through woods

Two Walterboro men accused of stealing a boat face charges after they led authorities from five agencies on a six-hour chase Sunday over land and water, through two counties and down the Broad River.

Kenneth Douglas Beach III, 27, and Ashley Nathan Murdaugh, 26, were arrested Sunday after they fled into woods off Whale Branch Creek in northern Beaufort County, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

The men face fleeing-to-evade charges in Beaufort County and grand larceny charges in Jasper County, according to Beaufort County sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh. Murdaugh also was charged with one count of reckless boat operation by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

It was unclear if they would face charges from the Coast Guard.

On Monday, Beach and Murdaugh were transferred from the Beaufort County Detention Center to Jasper County to await bond hearings.

The Coast Guard, DNR, Beaufort police and deputies from both Jasper and Beaufort counties' sheriffs' offices tracked the men down the Broad River after they allegedly stole a 33-foot boat, pickup truck and trailer Sunday morning from Steadfast Marine Services on S.C. 170 in Jasper County, according to DNR officials.

The incident began when the pair launched the craft from the Bolan Hall public boat ramp at about 11 a.m.

Aboard the boat was an emergency radio beacon, which sent what were believed to be distress calls to Coast Guard crews in Charleston, according to Lt. Commander Ryan Rhodes, an agency spokesman.

The agency launched a helicopter and a small boat to search.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard crews contacted the boat's owner, who said the vessel had been stolen.

The helicopter crew, along with DNR boat crews, tracked the men to Grays Hill, where they forced the boat ashore at Corning Landing at Whale Branch Creek, DNR Sgt. Michael Thomas said.

But before law enforcement officials could board the boat, the men ran into the woods, he said.

The Beaufort County sheriff's canine team found the men at about 5:45 p.m., sheriff Capt. Thomas Smith said.

No injuries were reported, and the boat was not badly damaged, he said.

Officials capture boat-theft suspects after chase down Broad River, Oct. 16, 2011