Crime & Public Safety

Fire, EMS dispatched to wrong bridge in fatal Beaufort Co. boat crash, 911 calls show

Confusion apparent in 911 call, radio dispatch in boat crash that killed Hampton teen

Confusion was apparent in the 911 call and radio dispatch in response to the boat crash at the Archers Creek bridge that led to the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C.
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Confusion was apparent in the 911 call and radio dispatch in response to the boat crash at the Archers Creek bridge that led to the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C.

Confusion in the aftermath of the Feb. 24 boat crash that killed a Hampton County teen led to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers sending multiple first-responders to the wrong location in the first hour after 911 was alerted to the incident, according to a review of dispatch recordings by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

The recordings reveal an hour of chaos and misdirection, beginning with the 2:26 a.m. 911 call reporting a boat with six people had crashed into a bridge near Parris Island and one of those boaters — later identified as 19-year-old Mallory Beach — was missing.

Beach’s body was found a week later. A preliminary autopsy lists her cause of death as drowning and secondary blunt force trauma as a result of the crash.

“If they could have been there sooner, maybe she could have been found,” Randy Beach, Mallory’s uncle said Saturday night. “They could have given her CPR. There is a lot of what ifs. Maybe it wouldn’t have been seven days to find her.”

Fire and EMS first arrived on the scene 28 minutes after the 911 call came in. Two ambulances didn’t make it to the scene until 3:04 a.m. — 38 minutes after the call, according to the recordings.

The national standard for arriving on scene of an emergency is four to eight minutes from the time of being dispatched, said Todd Sanders, an instructor with Rescue 3 International, a California-based company that trains rescue agencies on water rescues.

Dispatchers typically have enough information to dispatch units within 60 seconds of a 911 call, Sanders said speaking generally and not about the specific case. He said this can vary depending on the size of the police department taking the call.

Water rescue was first dispatched six minutes after the call came in, while fire and EMS departments were dispatched 12 and 13 minutes into the call, according to an Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette review.

“I know I will always be questioning it and knowing maybe things would have turned out differently, if they were dispatched to the right location,” Beach said. “That is something I will never know.”

The 911 dispatcher who handled the initial call and took several minutes to determine an exact location of the crash resigned from the sheriff’s office on Wednesday, said Maj. Bob Bromage, spokesperson for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Bromage said officials are reviewing the 911 calls from the incident.

“When issues are brought to our attention, we will review it and see how we could do better,” Bromage said.

Asked if the dispatcher’s resignation was related to the Feb. 24 incident, Bromage declined to comment.

When asked if it was normal for a dispatcher to take several minutes to ask about the injuries at the scene of a reported incident, Bromage declined to comment.

Police reported that all five boaters were “grossly intoxicated” and “injured.” While alcohol was suspected as a factor in the crash, no charges have been filed in the case, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the lead investigating agency.

It’s unknown if the slowed response time to the scene hindered the investigation.

DNR was one of the last agencies to arrive at the scene — more than an hour after the 911 call.

No charges have been filed in the investigation

As of Friday, DNR investigators had not yet spoken with all of the occupants on the boat, spokesperson Robert McCullough said.

The 911 call

In the first few seconds of the 13-minute 911 call, the male boater reporting the crash gave an accurate description of their location. His voice was flat, clear and calm.

Here is a transcript of the first minute and a half of the exchange.

Caller: We’re in a boat crash on Archer’s Creek.

Dispatcher: Where about on Archer Street?

Caller: In Archer’s Creek. The only bridge in Archer’s Creek.

Dispatcher: Archer Street?

Caller: Archer’s Creek.

Dispatcher: Archer’s Creek.

Caller: Near Parris Island.

Dispatcher: OK. What’s going on?

Caller: It’s by Parris Island.

Dispatcher: Right. What’s going on?

Caller: We’re in a boat crash.

Dispatcher: You’re in a what kind of boat?

Caller: A boat crash.

Dispatcher: A bo- boat? Did you say a boat crash?

Caller: A boat crash.

Dispatcher: OK. So you’re at a dock?

Dispatcher: Hello? Are you at the dock?

Caller: No. We just crashed. In a boat.

Dispatcher: All right. Are you in the water or are you … ?

Caller: We’re in the boat.

Dispatcher: OK.

Caller: We have someone missing.

Dispatcher: OK. Hang on one second, OK?

In the background of the call, screams are heard as upset boat occupants call out for Beach, who is missing. “Mallory!!! Oh my f***ing God,” yells an unidentified female boater, searching for Beach.

More than two minutes into the call, the dispatcher acknowledges the cries for help.

Dispatcher: “Well, who’s that in the background?”

Caller: “There’s six of us and one is missing.”

The description given by the caller “the only bridge on Archer’s Creek” could be found by a quick Google search, but the dispatcher questioned the caller on the location for several minutes before asking about injuries or information about the missing boater.

As time ticks, the screams grow louder in the background.

“I’m losing so much blood. I’m soaked in my blood,” a woman at the scene of the crash yelled.

“Oh my God. I’m losing so much f***ing blood,” she cried.

After eight minutes, the injured woman crying in the background pleaded for first-responders to hurry.

“Where are they? They’ve got to hurry,” a female voice screamed.

“I got wood all up in my arm. Please hurry.” a female voice yelled again.

While on the phone with dispatch, two of the boaters walked to the top of the bridge to make it easier for first-responders to locate them. After 11 minutes, the dispatcher was still questioning the caller on the exact location of the crash.

“So if you’re coming from like Walmart to Parris Island?” she asked, short of breath.

“Right,” the caller said. “If you would send an ambulance to Parris Island, ma’am, we’ll be waiting on the road.”

‘We’re getting conflicting stories here’

Dispatchers either gave the wrong location or failed to correct first-responders heading to the wrong place 14 times in the hour after they received the 911 call, according to a review of the dispatch and radio calls among emergency officials.

It is uncertain if dispatchers confused the description “Parris Island bridge” with the Russell Bell Bridge — the bridge that connects Parris Island/Shell Point to Port Royal. The Bell Bridge is 1.5 miles away from the Archer’s Creek Bridge, where the crash occurred.

Dispatchers referenced the Bell Bridge and “Parris Island bridge” to first-responders multiple times.

“Dispatch this is Battalion 1,” a fireman asked at about 2:54 a.m. after receiving multiple conflicting statements about the location. “Did you say the location was uh ... the Battery Creek boat landing? I didn’t understand the address you were giving us.”

Fire and EMS first arrived on the scene 28 minutes after the 911 call came in.

Two ambulances didn’t make it to the scene until 3:04 a.m. — 38 minutes after the call.

Lt. Ross Vezin, with the City of Beaufort and Town of Port Royal Fire Department, said Thursday his department typically arrives on scene within five minutes of receiving a dispatch call. The first call for fire went out 12 minutes after the 911 call was picked up by dispatch. Vezin said responders with his department searched the top of the bridge.

They even started searching the water with Sonar imaging along with marsh areas around the bridge. Vezin said he wasn’t sure what time they were told they were in the wrong spot.

At 2:57 a.m., 31 minutes after the 911 call came in, dispatch asks police at the scene, “Do you have any EMS personnel or fire personnel with you yet?

“Negative,” an officer replies.

‘You don’t happen to have a DNR officer in there?’

Some on social media have criticized the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the lead investigative agency for the crash, for not determining the boat’s driver and not giving sobriety tests to potential suspects.

When asked if the dispatcher confusion delayed DNR’s response to the scene, spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Calls from the night suggest a different story.

A DNR dispatcher went around and around with a Beaufort County dispatcher on a 3:15 a.m. call, trying to get a better description of the crash location.

At 3:22 a.m. a DNR official called dispatch, saying they gave the department the wrong number for the police officer in command at the scene.

McCullough said his agency was first contacted at 2:40 a.m. He said a DNR officer arrived on the scene about 30 minutes after receiving the call.

DNR didn’t make it to the scene before the five boaters were taken to the hospital.

About an hour and 20 minutes after the crash was reported, DNR officers hadn’t yet made it to the hospital.

Dispatchers called Beaufort Memorial at 3:44 a.m., asking if DNR officers were there.

“You don’t happen to have a DNR officer in there speaking with the subjects that just came in from the water emergency, the water, the boat call?” the dispatcher asked.

They were told that there weren’t any officers with the boaters, but a sheriff’s deputy was at the hospital.

The confusion among responders continued for hours after the crash.

At 4:29 a.m. dispatchers received a call from Beaufort County Search and Rescue saying, “We are getting conflicting stories here. I would like to talk to whoever called in so we can see exactly where the boat hit and where she flew out, so we can search the area better.”

More than 500 people attended a March 7 funeral for Beach who is remembered for always being kind, a Christian and a lover of animals.

The SCDNR investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death remains ongoing.

“They say only the good ones go young,” Olivia Boyles, a friend of Beach’s has said. “She really was a good one.”

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Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.