David Lauderdale

Justice now center stage in boat wreck that killed teen, rocked Beaufort and SC Lowcountry

Remembering Mallory: A look at the Hampton teen who died in Beaufort Co. boat crash

Mallory Madison Beach, 19, was killed in a boat crash near Parris Island on Feb. 24, 2019. Friends and family described her as a teen who was "always smiling" and loved animals. Here's how she'll be remembered.
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Mallory Madison Beach, 19, was killed in a boat crash near Parris Island on Feb. 24, 2019. Friends and family described her as a teen who was "always smiling" and loved animals. Here's how she'll be remembered.

The fatal boating accident in Beaufort County in the wee hours of Sunday, Feb. 24, has gripped the Lowcountry like little we’ve ever seen.

It is tragic because a young life was lost. Mallory Beach of Hampton County was only 19 and just coming into her own. She was known for her beauty, for brightening the spirits of others, and for loving outcast animals.

Mallory was one of six people in a 17-foot boat when it crashed into the bridge spanning Archers Creek at Parris Island. She was thrown overboard, and it took a week and 12 hours to find her remains.

Many people came to help #findMallory. Hundreds more got a strong dose of the gospel at her funeral service Thursday in Hampton.

But it’s also a sad case because it immediately raised a jarring question: Is justice possible?

That has been a major theme among the hundreds of people who’ve reacted publicly to the tragedy.

The question arises because the boat was registered to Alexander Murdaugh of the Hampton County family that for a century has defined the criminal justice system in this area.

Alexander Murdaugh, an attorney, was not on the boat or part of the accident, records show. But that name seems to be the lightning rod.

His great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh, opened a law office in Hampton in 1910. In 1920, he was elected solicitor of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which includes Allendale, Hampton, Jasper, Beaufort and Colleton counties. Randolph Sr. was succeeded by his son, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., who was succeeded by his son, Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh III.

It was said that this longevity was a national record, if there were such a thing.

For 86 years — from 1920 until Randy Murdaugh III’s retirement as solicitor in 2006 — it was the job of a Murdaugh to work with every law enforcement agency and court in the region. It was their job to know the officers and agencies inside out, and work with them 24/7. It was their job to make many heavy decisions about who gets prosecuted and who does not.

Randolph Sr.’s little country law firm is now large and powerful. Randy Murdaugh III and two of his sons, Randolph Murdaugh IV and Alexander Murdaugh, are attorneys with the firm.

It was an obvious and wise move when Randy Murdaugh III’s successor, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, asked the state attorney general’s office to take control of the case of the fatal boat wreck. Randy Murdaugh III “continues to serve the public as the prosecutorial consultant for the 14th Judicial Circuit,” the law firm’s website says.

Alexander Murdaugh, the boat owner, “also serves as a part-time prosecutor for the 14th Judicial Circuit,” the website says.

The accident investigation is in the hands of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, another of the agencies that combs God’s country of the 14th Judicial Circuit enforcing the law.

And so everyone’s watching. Can justice be done, under these circumstances? The question came from many as soon as they heard about the fatal crash and the name attached to the boat.

Justice is in the spotlight now, more so than any of the individuals involved in the fatal crash.

And the people are watching. They want a thorough investigation. We hope they want due process, and we hope they remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty — founding tenets of our nation that seem to be slipping away in the internet age. But the people want accountability. They want blind justice.

If it takes the FBI coming in here to take this case, it would be far better than having people of the Lowcountry second-guessing justice.

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Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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