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4 dead after boats crash on S.C. lake

A second person has died after a Lake Murray boating accident where a johnboat collided with a larger pleasure craft, S.C. Department of Natural Resources has reported.

The accident happened sometime after 10 p.m. Saturday when a 14-foot Fishmaster johnboat collided with a 23-foot Sea Pro. The johnboat had a 25 horsepower outboard motor while the Sea Pro had a 225 horsepower outboard motor.

The identity of the second victim has not been released, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. The other man killed in the accident was Matthew Kyle Howk, 22, of Columbia.

This accident was the second fatal collision Saturday night on Lake Murray. The two boating wrecks happened within 30 minutes of each other and about a mile apart between Susie Ebert Island and the U.S. Coast Guard Auzillary station on Flotilla Island. Two women were killed in the first accident. -- Noelle Phillips


Kelli Nichole Bullard, approximately 25, of Lexington and Amber Golden, 24, of Woodville, Ala., were killed in the first accident — which occurred between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday.

About 30 minutes later, less than a mile away, Matthew Kyle Howk, 22, of Columbia, died after his 14-foot Fishmaster johnboat with a 25 horsepower outboard motor collided with a 23-foot Sea Pro with a 225 horsepower outboard motor.

A second person in the johnboat was critically injured, according to Lt. Robert McCullough with the Department of Natural Resources.

The accidents happened between Susie Ebert Island and the Coast Guard Auxiliary station on Flotilla Island, near the Lake Murray and Lighthouse marinas, McCullough said.

Bullard’s family declined to comment Sunday night. Attempts to reach the Golden and Howk families were unsuccessful.

Overall, 13 people were involved in the two incidents.

The first incident involved two boats — a 23-foot Key West with a 225 horsepower Yamaha outboard motor and a 20-foot Sylvan with a 150 horsepower Suzuki outboard motor — each with two couples on board.

In the second incident, the 23-foot Sea Pro had three men on board and the 14-foot Fishmaster had two men on board.

The deaths are the first on Lake Murray this year and bring the statewide total so far to 11. Last year, 11 people died in boating accidents in South Carolina, the lowest number since the Department of Natural Resources began keeping track, McCullough said.

With boating season just beginning, McCullough said the number of deaths so far concerns him. "It is going to be a long boating season," he said.

McCullough said there is "no indication" that the boaters did not have the required number of life jackets on board, but said it does not appear anyone was wearing a life jacket. However, McCullough said this is a rare instance where a life jacket would not have made a difference.

All other questions about the accidents — how fast were the boats traveling, did the boats have lights on, was alcohol involved — are under investigation, McCullough said.

"The hardest thing about a collision on the water is there are no skid marks, no debris on the ground," he said. "You've got to use what you've got and put it back together. It's a puzzle."

The Richland County Sheriff's Department is assisting in the investigation, McCullough said.