SCDNR investigating death of 18-year-old boater near Ravenel Bridge

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 7:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources says an autopsy is underway for an 18-year-old boater.

On Monday afternoon, the Charleston County Coroner identified the deceased as Elijah Dominic Weatherspoon from North Charleston.

“At this time, the cause of death is pending awaiting autopsy,” said Deputy Coroner Elizabeth Dobbins.

SCDNR says they responded to a missing boater call on Thursday around 11 p.m. near the Ravenel Bridge. Officials say three days later on Sunday, Sullivan’s Island Fire Rescue recovered his body at 9:40 a.m. on a sandbar near Sullivan’s Island.

Two petitions that are circulating online in reference to the incident speculate foul play. So far, more than 40,000 people have signed them as of Monday evening. They believe there is more to to what happened and the petitions say there are ‘conflicting stories.'

DNR officials say so far their investigation doesn’t support those claims.

SCDNR Captain Robert McCullough says a witness said Weatherspoon jumped from a boat and did not resurface.

“The facts seem to indicate, that a young man went off the back of the boat into the water,” McCullough said. “One of the other boys in the boat went in after him, made contact but could not get him out.”

McCullough says currents are strong in the area where they were near the Ravenel Bridge.

He says nine people were on the boat and they have interviewed each person about what happened.

McCullough says investigators are talking with the family of Weatherspoon every day and providing them with updates.

The attorney for the family, Javaron Buckley Sr., says they are looking into doing their own investigation. He says there are inconsistencies in the information authorities are sharing.

Buckley says people on the beach found Weatherspoon’s body, not rescue crews. He says he received a call from the people who located him who told him police did not take down their information.

“We are doing a good thorough investigation,” McCullough said. “If anything comes up if there’s any foul play or anything that like that we will pursue it to the end... if anything comes up. I will say this too, accidents happen.”

The Coast Guard Charleston Sector Command Center was also involved in the search efforts. Coast Guard officials say crews searched around the bridge, the Cooper River, the Wando River and Charleston Harbor, covering 205 square miles on Friday.

Crews searched for nearly 24 hours before calling off the search.

SCDNR officials say they investigate all boating facilitates in the state and they do “a lot” each year.

"I want people to be safe out there on the water and enjoy yourself but this is, I mean this is one of those tragedies," McCullough said. "I really hate to say it, but I can't tell you how many times somebody will jump in the water to either cool off or just never come up. It's the weirdest. It's very odd that that happens, but it does."

The Coast Guard says two other boats joined in the search and were able to get one of the two boaters back on board. SCDNR says the boater who was rescued was a friend of the 18-year-old who tried to save him. According to emergency officials, that person was in fine condition when he was transported back to the pier.

In contrast to the attorney, McCullough says he was told Sullivan’s Island search crews were looking for the boater on Sunday when they found him.

“It’s one of those things you don’t like to talk about, but as it comes that’s what happens naturally is you float,” McCullough said. “If you drown you will eventually come up and then go back down.”

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