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    Sandy Island: Investigator examines boat for clues

    By Charles Swenson
    Coastal Observer

    Sgt. Robin Camlin reached into the hull of the battered yellow boat and came up with a bucket of muddy Waccamaw River water.

    Two days after the boat was recovered from the river bottom just south of the Sandy Island community, Camlin, who is investigating the sinking for the state Department of Natural Resources, was just about finished bailing it out.

    “I saw the boat for the first time on Saturday,” she said.

    The boat sank Feb. 18 around 9 p.m. as four adults and two children were heading home to the island. Three adults drowned.

    One child and her mother, who was wearing a “float coat,” reached the shore. The other child was found floating face down in the water. He was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he remains.

    Camlin will try to determine what caused the boat to sink.

    “I’m still gathering information,” she said.

    The boat is a 1973 Marquis 156T, a fiberglass runabout. It was found by private divers using sonar after Natural Resources divers were unable to find it. Agency divers tried unsuccessfully last week to raise the boat, but returned Saturday morning with additional crew and equipment.

    The boat was towed to the Sandy Island Landing as island residents were meeting to discuss ways to improve the safety of crossing the Waccamaw River. The 12,000-acre island is accessible only by boat. Most of the island is owned by the state Department of Transportation and managed as a wildlife preserve.

    About 40 residents who gathered outside the island’s community center were told that Natural Resources is willing to schedule boat inspections.

    Also, donated life jackets will be stored in secure lockers at the mainland and island docks.

    None of the people who drowned, Lou Ann Robinson, 47, her daughter, Shaquatia Robinson, 19, and Rishard Pyatt, 18, were wearing life jackets.

    Camlin said she has interviewed the boat operator, Tiffany Tucker, and her family about the condition of the boat before it sank. She said she plans to meet with them again now that the boat has been recovered.

    There are no holes in the bottom of the boat, only a layer of barnacles. The hull has separated from the forward deck, exposing the buoyancy foam.

    Camlin said it’s too soon to speculate about the gap, and whether it may have been caused by the sinking.

    A window frame in front of the helm was torn away when the boat was raised, she said. The glass in a hinged frame between the console and the forward seats is shattered.

    A homemade seat was recovered the day after the sinking, Camlin said.

    The inside is empty except for a plywood sheet laid over the bottom of the hull and a marine battery wired to the 40 hp Evinrude engine.

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