COLUMBIA, S.C. — The parents of two young women killed in separate watercraft accidents last year are hoping South Carolina lawmakers take steps to improve water safety and spare others their grief.
Two senators have put forward proposals they say are meant to save lives, but allow people a chance to enjoy boating too.
Democratic Sen. Thomas McElveen of Sumter has sponsored legislation that would require boaters to travel only at a slow, “no wake” speed after the sun sets.
“It’s pretty unregulated out there,” the senator said of South Carolina’s waterways. “I fish all the time, but it seems every holiday we seem to have accidents. I think it just makes common sense to put your boat at idle speed after dark.”
Capt. Robert McCullough of the state Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for policing the waterways, said there are no speed limits for boats. However, boaters are required to operate their watercraft in a safe manner and not at speeds that put people in danger, McCullough said.
McElveen said his bill was prompted by last summer’s accident that claimed the life of 21-year-old Hailey Bordeaux, who died of injuries due to July 4 boating accident on Lake Marion. He dubbed his measure “Hailey’s law.”
She was a rising senior at the University of South Carolina, majoring in early childhood development, said her father, Shawn Bordeaux.
“It didn’t have to happen,” said the Sumter resident. “I know she didn’t suffer, but it could have been avoided.”
The 51-year-old Bordeaux said his daughter and two friends were in a boat sitting at a standstill near a dock around 12:30 a.m. and were struck by another traveling in the area. “People have to realize that they are driving a potentially deadly weapon out there,” said Bordeaux.
In connection with the incident, a Clarendon County man faces charges of reckless homicide by operation of a boat and failing to render assistance when a death results, according to county records.
The second incident involves the death of 19-year-old Millicent McDonald, who was killed last May on Lake Marion in a collision with a 26-year-old male jet skier. A Florence man has been charged with reckless homicide by operation of a boat in connection with the incident, county records show.
Her mother, Mellissa Grice, said she would like to see a “Milli’s Law” enacted that would require officials to give breathalyzer tests to watercraft operators involved in an accident that claims a life, which is not required now.
“It just seems to be a southern tradition to have a cooler of alcohol on a boat out on the water,” says Grice. “My mission is to get this law passed.”
Grice’s representative, Sen. Kevin Johnson of Manning, said he has proposed a resolution asking DNR to study the state’s regulations on boating safety and get back to lawmakers before he proposes changes in the law. It also asks DNR to conduct public hearings on safety to educate boaters. Johnson is a co-sponsor of McElveen’s bill.
McCullough said DNR statistics show there have been 215 deaths in recreational boating accidents between 2004 and 2014 in the state. Three-quarters of the deaths could have been averted if people had worn life vests and about half appear connected to alcohol use, he said.
“We have far too many,” the officer said of the boating deaths.
McCullough said the agency has 248 officers who monitor the 465,805 registered motorboats on 460,000 acres of lakes, 8,000 miles of rivers and 3,000 miles of coastline. The agency just hired 20 additional officers, he said.