Beach death investigation: Why was no one breathalyzed after SC crash?

State - Regional
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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Many questions still surround the death of a 19-year-old girl who was thrown from a boat and later found dead in the Lowcountry.

We know who may have provided the alcohol to the group from lawsuits filed, and we know who was on that boat per police reports, but what we don’t know is who was driving and why no one was breathalyzed.

Six people were on the boat when it crashed in Archer’s Creek in Beaufort County. Five made it ashore alive; 19-year-old Mallory Beach did not. 

“Clearly one of them was driving,” said Robert McCullough, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the agency assigned to the investigation. 

A Port Royal police report states an officer observed all five were “grossly intoxicated.” Beaufort County deputies, who were first on the scene, eventually determined one of two boys was driving– Paul Murdaugh or Connor Cook– both only 20 years old.

Neither were breathalyzed on the scene.

“Same thing as if everybody standing around a car, you don’t know who drove it. It’s not against the law to be standing around a car intoxicated, it’s against the law to drive it,” McCullough explained. “Until you can prove who was driving it, you have probable cause to test them if they were driving under the influence.

“I can’t just go test somebody on the street because I think they’re drunk.”

In fact, no one on the boat was of the legal drinking age and no one was breathalyzed by law enforcement.

“I can’t speak to the case, but I can tell you in general terms, that yes, if I do something improperly, then it can be thrown out later,” McCullough said. “So, why would I do something that would possibly hurt my case as opposed to help it?”

Murdaugh’s grandfather used to be the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor, covering Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton, and Allendale counties. The grandfather and father have a family law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, and still try cases in the circuit.

Investigators with the SCDNR say they still have not been able to interview the two boys.

“Eventually, as the case moves forward, we will be able to do that,” McCullough said. “But as of right now, you have the right to have an attorney and that invokes a lot of other rights.

“We continue moving forward, getting our facts right, until we present them to the solicitor’s office.”

The 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor has asked the Attorney General to recuse him from the case, stating two of the accident victims are related to employees in his office.

McCullough said once they’ve completed the investigation, they will make any appropriate charges.

The family’s law firm did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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