The crash that started it all: Deadly boat crash puts Murdaugh family into spotlight
HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Following a deadly boat crash in 2019 with ties to a prominent Lowcountry family, disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh, along with his wife and two sons, would be thrust into a years-long saga of unveiled tragedies and criminal accusations.
The Feb. 24, 2019 incident that left 19-year-old Mallory Beach dead, put the Murdaugh family into a spotlight unlike one they had ever been in before. Murdaugh’s youngest son, 19-year-old Paul, would face charges for Beach’s death after officials state Paul was drunk and behind the wheel of the boat prior to the crash.
Five of Paul’s closest friends, including Beach, her boyfriend Anthony Cook, his cousin Connor Cook, along with Connor’s girlfriend, Miley Altman, and Paul’s girlfriend, Morgan Doughty, were on the boat at the time, according to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) records.
Dispatch calls released by SCDNR state Beach was sitting on her boyfriend’s lap in the moments leading up to the incident. The agency took pictures aboard the boat the next day of alcohol still on ice and empty cans left behind.
“They were driving at a high rate of speed, in the water, in the boat. Female was sitting on her boyfriend’s lap. They hit the bridge. [Beach] is now missing,” a 911 operator for Beaufort County Dispatch states.
Police say Murdaugh had been drinking the night of the wreck before he crashed his dad’s boat into the Archer’s Creek bridge near Parris Island. While out on bond awaiting trial for the charges in Beach’s death, the then 22-year-old was shot and killed along with his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, at their Colleton County home, Moselle, in 2021.
Alex Murdaugh would be charged for their murders a little more than a year later.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Paul’s charges in Beach’s death were dropped after he died. Shortly after, SCDNR shared key details from its investigation into the crash, which included surveillance video captured near the New Day Dock in Beaufort.
It showed some of Beach’s final moments, as the six teens, including Beach and Murdaugh, walked toward the boat authorities said Murdaugh was operating that night.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources also released 911 dispatch audio, detailing the chaos that came after the crash. Connor Cook, one of the teens onboard the boat, made the call to police around 2:30 a.m.
Cook: Paul, what bridge is this?
911 operator: 911, where’s your emergency?
Connor Cook: We’re in a boat crash on Archer’s Creek... we have someone missing... Please send someone!
911 operator: We’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming! Ok?... Who’s that in the background?
Cook: There’s six of us, and one is missing.
911 operator: Who’s missing?
Cook: A female. Mallory Beach is missing.
Surveillance from SCDNR showed Paul Murdaugh buying alcohol at a Parker’s Convenience Store in Ridgeland, South Carolina, police say, with a fake I.D., reportedly his older brother Buster’s. Additional surveillance showed Murdaugh ordering more alcohol at Luther’s Rare & Well Done, a bar in Beaufort, after docking the boat nearby.
Beach’s final moments were captured about an hour before the crash at 1:13 a.m. when the six friends were walking from the bar back to the boat.
The crash happened around 2:30 a.m. Beach was thrown from the boat, and four of the five teens were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, according to SCDNR.
Beach’s body was found a week later by another boater a few miles away at the Broad River Boat Landing. The coroner’s office said Beach died from drowning and blunt force trauma.
Following the crash and Beach’s death, the Beach family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Hampton County against Murdaugh and the Parker’s store Paul reportedly bought alcohol from, among others. The case is still pending.
Through years of legal filings from both the plaintiff and the defendants, the case faced roadblocks along the way, and it continues to.
Parker’s Corporation would attempt to be tried separately from Murdaugh. In the judge’s approval order, Judge Daniel Hall noted the intense public interest in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial as a factor in his decision.
That order would later be reversed, and the trial, which was set for Jan. 9, 2023, would be pushed back. The Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley says there is currently no rescheduled court date. Murdaugh’s murder trial for the deaths of Maggie and Paul is set for Jan. 23, 2023.
In 2021, passenger Connor Cook also filed a similar suit against Alex Murdaugh claiming he tried to frame him as the driver of the boat instead of his son.
In early 2022, Miley Altman and Morgan Doughty, two other passengers, filed identical personal injury lawsuits against the Murdaughs and Parker’s, alleging Paul’s parents knew he was drinking the night of the crash.
Anthony Cook, Mallory’s boyfriend at the time, also has a pending case against Parker’s and Murdaugh.
The night of Maggie and Paul’s murders, prosecutors say Alex Murdaugh told officers within 30 seconds of arrival that the motive for the shooting was the deadly 2019 boat crash.
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