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Fines, empathy wrap up accident probe

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The operator of the boat that sank in the Waccamaw River off the coast of Sandy Island in February, in which three passengers drowned, was cited by the state Department of Natural Resources for three life jacket violations, a charge that comes with a fine of $110 to $170.

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

While the boat operator, Tiffany Tucker, wasn’t responsible for ensuring the adults on the boat were wearing life jackets, life jackets should have been available for everyone on the boat, said Sgt. Robin Camlin, the Natural Resources officer who investigated the accident.

Tucker will also be issued three warnings — two for other safety violations and one for a registration violation, Camlin said.

She recommended the actions in a report sent to the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in May.

In a letter issued to Natural Resrouces last week, Solicitor Greg Hembree concurred with Camlin’s recommendation. Camlin notified the families of those involved this week.

Camlin said she can’t give specifics about the case, but “based on the evidence and information gathered, and the statements by the boat operator, it was determined the weather probably played a large part in the accident.”

The boat, a 14-foot 1973 Marquis 156T, a fiberglass runabout, sank Feb. 18 on its way to Sandy Island at around 9 p.m. during a storm. It was carrying four adults and two children.

The boat was recovered from the bottom of the Waccamaw River in March.

“One of the big questions has been about the condition of the boat,” Camlin said. “That’s what everybody wants to know about.”

Natural Resources studied the wreckage, but does not have authorization or adequate information to declare the boat unsafe.

“We’ll never know that,” she said. “It may not have been in the same condition when it went down as it was when we pulled it up. All we have are the statements that were taken.”

Camlin said she feels compassion for those involved in the accident.

“They were all related, they were all part of the same family, and nothing is going to bring their loved ones back,” she said. “With the charges we made, we considered everything, again being compassionate and empathizing with the families and their loved ones, but continuing to do what DNR has to do.”

The tragedy drew attention to transportation of residents who can only reach Sandy Island by boat.

State legislation passed in May to let the Sandy Island school boat to be used as a passenger ferry. Georgetown County Council formed a task force to study the options.

Coast Regional Transit Authority and school district officials met in June, and decided it would be more efficient to contract with a boat operator to serve students and other islanders.

Coast RTA is looking into how much the service would cost and who is available to provide it.

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