MOUNT PLEASANT — It wasn't closing time. But when the dock at The Wreck on Shem Creek collapsed Saturday night, the party was pretty much over.
Karen Hollings was one of 20 people police say fell into the water. She was enjoying the evening, celebrating her friend's birthday at The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene restaurant.
While socializing on the dock, a random thought of a deck collapsing at a party crossed her mind. She didn't dwell on it. Five minutes later, her mustard-colored sweater and black cocktail attire was soaked and she was swimming to a nearby boat for safety.
"I didn't hear anything," Hollings recalled. "It was frightening. Unlike jumping into a pool or into the ocean, there was no time to prepare for it. No one expected it. ... Next thing I know, I'm gulping contaminated and polluted water."
Hollings and the other guests did not receive major injuries, according to authorities. But, Hollings said, she is experiencing soreness from the incident and is curious as to how and why the dock would have collapsed.
The state of South Carolina and the town of Mount Pleasant don't have an answer.
While the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control typically issues permits for dock locations in environmentally sensitive coastal areas, the agency said Monday it isn't responsible for inspecting the structural integrity of docks. And the dock adjacent to The Wreck was built before the 1977 law that required it to have a "critical area permit."
Laura Renwick, an agency spokeswoman, said DHEC doesn't have any "jurisdiction for structural integrity inspection" of the dock. If there were new construction on the dock, it would be inspected and permitted by the agency, she said.
There were no reviews on file with the department.
The town of Mount Pleasant also didn't inspect the structural integrity of the dock.
Jeffery Ulma, director of planning and development for the town, said in a statement the municipality issues "building permits and conducts inspections for building activities on land." He said other regulations are handled by DHEC.
"We don't have a program in place where we inspect docks on private property," said town spokeswoman Martine Wolfe. "We also just don't have the manpower for a program like that."
An emailed statement from Kristen Charles, who was speaking on behalf of The Wreck, said the collapse at the restaurant's dock happened when the attendees were taking a group photo.
"On Saturday evening, we opened our dock for a private event for a former employee as she celebrated her 30th birthday with close friends and family, while business continued as usual inside the restaurant," Charles said in a statement. "When a photographer gathered a large group on the very end of the dock for a sunset photo, a small portion of the dock fell in, along with those who had gathered for the photo."
The Wreck's statement said the dock is not typically open to the public.
"While it's important to note that this dock has never been open to the public, and was only in use for this private event, we look forward to rebuilding that portion of the dock so that our local shrimpers can continue their business as usual," Charles said.
Chris Tweedy is the manager of the neighboring Simmons Marina on Shem Creek, whose dock is right next door to The Wreck. Video surveillance from Saturday reviewed by The Post and Courier shows construction workers building a roof at the marina and then six or so of the men sprinting over to help guests wading in the water.
"In all the times I've boated or been in Shem Creek, I've never seen anything like it," Tweedy said. "It's an astronomically uncommon occurrence."
Mount Pleasant police also sent a dive team to the area.
The last high-profile dock to collapse in the Charleston area was in October 2015, when Crosby’s Fish and Shrimp's platform collapsed near Folly Beach. About 40 people were on the structure when it cracked. One man broke his leg.
Tweedy said private docks like theirs are permitted by DHEC when there is a major addition or construction on the property, such as when the roof was being built.
At least one shrimp boat, the Playboy owned by Captain Tommy Edwards, docked at the now-collapsed structure. Edwards couldn't be reached Monday.
Rocky Magwood, a shrimp boat captain on the Geechie Boy, said dock collapses aren't surprising.
"It's rare when it happens ... but some of those docks are getting really old," Magwood said.
He also said shrimp boat captains in the area have reached out to restaurants and offered to help fix them.
Despite resting at home on Monday and calling around for doctor appointments, Hollings said she was in good spirits overall. But she's also more wary of her surroundings.
"I certainly won't be going out on a dock in the near future," she said.