A man with ties to one of Hampton County's most prominent legal families was indicted Thursday in connection with the boating collision that led to the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach in Beaufort County.
Paul Murdaugh, who was 19 at the time of the crash, was charged with one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury, the S.C. Attorney General's Office confirmed.
Jim Griffin of Columbia, an attorney for Murdaugh, said he had not seen the charging documents and declined to comment Thursday.
Murdaugh faces a maximum of 25 years for the death charge and a maximum 15 years for each charge of causing great bodily injury. This was the only indictment to date.
The episode has attracted attention far outside the southernmost section of the South Carolina coast. The case is notable both for the fact that investigators did not test the blood alcohol levels of the occupants of the boat and for the incident's links to the influential Murdaugh family.
The indictments stem from the early morning hours of Feb. 24 when a boat collided with the Archer's Creek Bridge, which connects the Parris Island Marine training facility to the rest of Beaufort County. All six occupants of the boat were ejected, but Beach didn't resurface.
Her body was found seven days later near the Broad River boat landing, the Island Packet reported, which is about 5½ miles from the site of the crash.
Investigators did not test the blood alcohol levels of the occupants of the boat in part because they did not know for sure at the time who the driver was, said Robert McCullough, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. However, a police report described the surviving passengers as grossly intoxicated — a detail that has led to widespread criticism of DNR's handling of the investigation. The agency investigated 15 deaths from boating crashes last year, McCullough said.
The man charged is a member of a Hampton County family with deep roots in the area. It is because of the family's connections to the justice system that current 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone declined to take the case, handing it off instead to the Attorney General's Office.
Randolph Murdaugh was the first in the family to serve as solicitor for the circuit, which includes Beaufort County. Randolph died in 1940, but his son and grandson both held the elected position subsequently, leading to an almost uninterrupted 87-year stretch in which a Murdaugh led the state's prosecutions for five counties in the Lowcountry.
That run ended in 2005, but Randolph III is still a consultant to the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, according to his biography on the Murdaugh family law practice's website. Alex, one of his sons, also works as a part-time prosecutor in the office. Alex is also the father of the man indicted Thursday.
In the aftermath of the accident, Randolph III and Alex Murdaugh showed up at the hospital where Paul was held and encouraged him not to speak with investigators, McCullough said.
Several of the Murdaugh clan are also partners in a private practice headquartered in Hampton, which was founded by Randolph Murdaugh and has now grown to 17 attorneys across three offices. The firm routinely handles wrongful death cases.
But now the Murdaughs are on the other side of a civil case — defendants in a suit brought by Beach's mother, Renee S. Beach. The suit claims that multiple family members — Randolph III, Alex and Alex Murdaugh Jr. — are implicated because they facilitated drinking before the boat crash. All six occupants of the boat were underage, and the suit alleges they had been drinking on a private island owned by a Murdaugh family trust before the crash.
The suit does not name Paul Murdaugh. No answers to the complaint have yet been filed.
Thursday marked 46 days since the collision. But it also marked another bittersweet anniversary: what would have been Mallory Beach's 20th birthday.
Mark Tinsley, an attorney for the Beach family, said Philip Beach took the day off to visit his daughter's grave.
"I never imagined that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate your 20th birthday with you," Renee Beach wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday morning. "Happy Birthday in Heaven Mallory Madison Beach. I miss you so so much!"