Crime & Public Safety

Former solicitor allowed underage drinking before fatal Beaufort Co. boat crash, suit alleges

The mother of the teenager killed in the Feb. 24 boat crash near Parris Island filed a new wrongful death lawsuit Friday in Hampton County against a former 14th Circuit solicitor and two of his family members who the lawsuit alleges knowingly allowed the underage boaters to drink alcohol and use false identification to obtain alcohol before the crash.

Renee Beach, the mother of 19-year-old Mallory Beach, is suing former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III, his son Richard Alexander Murdaugh, and his grandson Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr.

The recently filed wrongful death lawsuit also includes claims against Luther’s Rare & Well Done 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 six boaters, who were between the ages of 18 and 20.

Beach filed suit against Parker’s, Luther’s and the Woods on March 20 in Beaufort County. That lawsuit has been dismissed, Beach’s attorney, Mark Tinsley of the Gooding & Gooding law firm in Allendale, said Monday.

The Hampton County suit alleges that Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. allowed his younger brother — who is not named in the lawsuit— to use his driver’s license to purchase alcohol at Parker’s.

According to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and Port Royal Police Department reports, 18-year-old Paul Murdaugh was on the boat.

After purchasing the alcohol, Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr.’s brother (Paul) shared the alcohol with Beach and the other four people under the age of 21, according to the lawsuit. The group then consumed alcohol on Randolph Murdaugh’s property, referred to in the lawsuit as “The Island.”

“The Island” is property located on Chechessee Creek that is an asset of the Murdaugh Trust 2, which Randolph Murdaugh is a trustee of, Tinsley said. He said it is where the boaters launched from on the evening of Feb. 23.

The lawsuit accuses Randolph Murdaugh of allowing underage drinkers to consume alcohol on his property and allowing them to leave in an in “intoxicated state.” It also said the group drank alcohol that was on The Island and “available for consumption.”

“(Randolph Murdaugh) undertook a duty to supervise minors’ consumption of alcohol so as to not allow them to unnecessarily endanger themselves or others, including Mallory Beach,” the lawsuit said.

Later that day, the same group of people under age 21 boated to a party at the Woods’ home, 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 despite the knowledge that upon leaving their home, the minors would operate a boat with their faculties and judgment grossly and dangerously impaired,” the lawsuit said.

After they left the Woods’ house, the group boated to Luther’s, where two of them were served “alcohol, despite their being underage and intoxicated ...,” the lawsuit states. The two boaters were at Luther’s during the late hours of Feb. 23 and/or early hours of Feb. 24.

After leaving Luther’s, one of the boaters crashed the boat into the Archer’s Creek bridge, ejecting Mallory Beach from the boat, causing her death, the lawsuit stated.

It is believed the boaters were on the way back to “The Island” when the boat crashed, Tinsley said.

Richard Alexander Murdaugh, Paul Murdaugh’s father, “had knowledge or should have known his minor son illegally purchased and consumed alcohol on a regular basis by using or displaying the driver’s license of his adult son,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Richard Alexander Murdaugh of “failing to supervise his son when he knew or should have known his son was illegally using a license to buy and consume alcohol.”

Richard Alexander Murdaugh owned the boat that 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, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the lead investigating agency in the case. However, the lawsuit does not mention that he owned the boat.

Attempts to reach Randolph, Richard Alexander and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. were unanswered Monday.

Three generations of the Murdaugh family held the position of solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit from 1920 to 2006. The circuit includes Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Allendale and Colleton counties. Randolph Murdaugh III was the last family member to hold the position.

The Solicitor’s Office is similar to a district attorney, or prosecutor’s office in other states.

Randolph Murdaugh III continues to work as a contractor trying criminal cases for the 14th Judicial Circuit. Richard Alexander Murdaugh, who is also an attorney, assists his father but is not paid by Solicitor’s Office, the office’s spokesman, Jeff Kidd, previously told the Island Packet.

The two also work as attorneys at their family’s law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.

Greg Parker, founder and CEO of Parker’s 55, previously issued a statement saying 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.”

Why file in Hampton County?

A lawsuit can be filed in any county in which a defendant resides, Tinsley said. He said this is why the suit has been refiled in Hampton County, as opposed to Beaufort County, where the crash occurred.

When asked if there is any concern about filing in Hampton County, where the Murdaugh family has lived and worked for generations, Tinsley said the county’s population also is connected to Mallory.

“I went to (Mallory’s) funeral,” Tinsley said. “I stood in line for almost two hours. When I left, the line was almost three times longer than when I got there.

“These people are sophisticated.,” Tinsley said referring to the Murdaugh family.

“Only a fool would argue with something that has indisputable evidence, and they are not fools,” Tinsley said. “Things are not supposed to be hostile. This is supposed to be a civilized way of settling lawsuits. They understand that it is a tragedy. I don’t think for one second that they think ‘its Hampton County and we are going to get away with this.’ “

The purpose of the lawsuit is to “shine a light” on adult behavior that should be changed — such as providing or selling alcohol to minors, Tinsley said.

“There is no question who was driving the boat is to blame,” Tinsley said. “But they are going to be held accountable in a criminal way. This is the way these other people are going to be held responsible.”

The investigation

Mallory was one of six passengers on the boat when it crashed. All six boaters were thrown into the water, per SCDNR officials.

Audio from police dispatch communications say the boaters saw Mallory in the water before she disappeared. Her body was found a week later in a marshy area about five miles from the crash site.

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.

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

SCDNR has not charged anyone in the boat crash. It remains unknown who was driving the boat.

As of Monday, the state agency had yet to speak to the two suspected drivers, SCDNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said.

A sobriety test was not offered to any of the boaters, McCullough has 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.

The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette hasn’t previously named passengers on the boat because no charges have been filed. Paul Murdaugh was named in this story because it is relevant to why family members are being sued.

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.
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.