Crime & Public Safety

Government office asks to be removed from fatal Beaufort Co. boat crash investigation

A day after the Feb. 24 Beaufort County boat crash that resulted in the death of a Hampton County teen, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone asked to be removed from the investigation, according to a letter sent from Stone’s office to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Stone’s office provided a copy of the letter to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette newspapers

Wednesday after a reporter inquired about the solicitor’s involvement in the case.

The letter, which requests that either Wilson’s office handle the case or that he assigns it to another solicitor’s office in the state, said that two of the accident victims are related to employees of Stone’s office.

After the letter was sent to the attorney general, a third person on the boat was identified to be a relative of another employee of the solicitor’s office, spokesman Jeff Kidd said Wednesday.

Mallory Beach, 19, was killed after the boat she was in crashed into a bridge crossing Archers Creek near Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Five other occupants on the boat were injured.

When asked specifically about the nature of the relationships between the boaters and Stone’s office, Kidd said the office’s former solicitor, Randolph Murdaugh, is related to one of the occupants.

Murdaugh continues to work under contract for the office trying criminal cases, he said.

Chandler Cook, an administrative employee in the solicitor’s Colleton County office, is related to two of the occupants, Kidd said.

“There was enough for us to say, ethically, we shouldn’t prosecute that case,” Kidd said. “We moved early to make sure that law enforcement weren’t coming to us with legal questions.”

The 14th Circuit includes Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties.

Occupants on the boat have not been named by the newspapers because no charges have been filed.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is leading the investigation.

“Charges are very possible” in the case, SCDNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said Wednesday.

The letter from Stone’s office said, “As there is a possibility that charges may be brought and (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources) may need legal assistance with their investigation, I am asking that you either assign someone from your office or another Solicitor’s Office to this case.”

A representative from Wilson’s office confirmed Wednesday that the office had received Stone’s request.

“If it comes to the point where there is a prosecution, we’ll decide then whether our office will handle it or we’ll assign it to another solicitor,” said Robert Kittle, spokesman for Wilson’s office said.

The driver of the boat has been narrowed to one of two people at the scene, a police report from the Port Royal Police Department said. Beaufort County Sheriff’s Officials said this was determined from information gathered by responding officers on the scene.

As of Wednesday, SCDNR investigators had not yet spoken with all of the occupants on the boat, McCullough said. He has previously said a couple of the boaters have attorneys.

All five boaters appeared to be “grossly intoxicated,” a Port Royal police report said.

Alcohol also was found on the boat, SCDNR officials have previously said.

Sobriety tests were not offered or administered to any occupants on the boat because one of the suspected drivers had an attorney directly after the crash and would not speak with investigator and the other suspected driver was in surgery, SCDNR officials previously told the newspapers.

Commenters on social media have been critical of the DNR investigation and have been particularly vocal about DNR not yet knowing who the driver of the boat was and whether alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Beach, a former University of South Carolina student, had been missing for a week before she was found Sunday.

The 17-foot boat crashed at about 2:20 a.m. Feb. 24 near a causeway leading to the gate of Parris Island.

The boat is registered to Alexander Murdaugh of Islandton.

Teresa Moss is a crime and public safety reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She has worked as a journalist for 16-years for newspapers in Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.