S.C. Legislature studying water safety after deaths of two women last year

– The parents of two young women killed in separate watercraft accidents last year are hoping South Carolina lawmakers improve water safety rules 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 wants to require boaters to travel only at a slow, “no wake” speed after the sun sets.

“It’s pretty unregulated out there,” McElveen said. “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 polices 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.

McElveen said his bill was prompted by last summer’s accident involving 21-year-old Hailey Bordeaux, who died of injuries due to a July 4 boating accident on Lake Marion. He dubbed his measure “Hailey’s law.”

Bordeaux was a rising senior at the University of South Carolina, majoring in early childhood development, said her father, Shawn Bordeaux.

Bordeaux said his daughter and two friends were in a boat near a dock around 12:30 a.m. and were struck by another boat traveling in the area.

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 accident involved 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.

McDonald’s 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,” Grice said. “My mission is to get this law passed.”

Grice’s representative, Sen. Kevin Johnson of Manning, wants the Department of Natural Resources to study the state’s regulations on boating safety and get back to lawmakers before he proposes changes in the law. He also asks DNR to conduct public hearings on safety to educate boaters.

DNR statistics show there have been 215 deaths in recreational boating accidents between 2004 and 2014 in South Carolina. Three-quarters of the deaths could have been averted if people had worn life vests, and about half appear connected to alcohol use, McCullough said.

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 recently hired 20 additional officers, he said.