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Lost at Sea: Service offers solace to family

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

None of his friends were surprised to see Kurtis Hutchison jump into the water and begin swimming after their boat when it drifted free off Bird Island near Little River last April 21.

Hutchison, 26, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve and former football player in his native Pennsylvania, was nearing the runaway boat when, to their horror, he was struck and killed by a commercial fishing trawler returning to port.

Hutchison’s name was inscribed on the Murrells Inlet Lost at Sea memorial, and a service of commemoration was held for him Sunday at Morse Landing Park.

“We had gone up to Bird Island for a birthday party,” said Jake Hallonquist, a lifelong friend of Hutchison who came from his home in Myrtle Beach for Sunday’s service. “There were five of us on the beach throwing the football around. It was a very windy day, and every time we’d set the anchor on our boat it would start to drag. Finally it came loose, and Kurt swam after the boat to bring it back to shore.”

Hutchison’s body was recovered from the water. He is buried in his native Pittsburgh, Pa., but his mother, Lisa, and friends and family members in the Murrells Inlet area were glad to have his name on the memorial. “It was difficult,” his mother said after the ceremony. “It’s like burying him all over again. We did that in Pennsylvania. Down here it was more of a celebration with the kids who had met him. We can all come and visit with him. It’s a place of solace until I can make it up there where the accident happened.”

Hutchison and his girlfriend, Lainie Mead, moved to Murrells Inlet to be near his mother about a year before his death. He left active duty in the U.S. Army and joined the Reserves. He was studying to become a physical education teacher.

“He wanted to work with students and be a positive influence,” Hutchison’s brother, Brian, said.

Mead thought Hutchison would have made a good teacher. “He was fun,” she said, “and very open-minded, understanding and patient, but very, very fun.”

Hutchison’s uncle, Joe Neff, said he was an outstanding high school baseball and football player and excelled in the military. “He was always the life of every function, every gathering,” Neff said. “He was really outgoing and outspoken. He had a lot of friends, never met a stranger. After a few minutes, it’s like they had known him for years.”

The Lost At Sea memorial was erected at Morse Landing Park in memory of Johnny W. Brown, a commercial fisherman from Murrells Inlet who was lost with his crew when a rogue wave swamped their boat off the North Carolina coast April 2, 2005. Their bodies were never recovered.

Sandra Bundy read the 30 names inscribed on the memorial since it was erected, and Linda Connell sounded a ship’s bell for each. Both are members of the board of Murrells Inlet 2020.

Hutchison’s name is the first to be added to the memorial since 2011.

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