TOWNVILLE, S.C. — Authorities have charged a woman they said was operating a boat that capsized, leading to the deaths of a 9-year-old boy and 5-month-old boy on Lake Hartwell on Sunday night.
Robert McCullough, with the Department of Natural Resources, said the tritoon boat was headed back to its dock near Hudgens Lake Road in the Townville area about 9 p.m. when the boat capsized, not too far away.
As the boys were thrown into the water, the 9-year-old was rescued and flown to the hospital, where the Anderson County coroner said he died just before 10 p.m.
Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Sheila Cole said a helicopter and dive team were dispatched to the lake to search for the missing baby boy. Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper said the 5-month-old was found after midnight in about 20 feet of water.
McCullough said Dawn Thompson, 52, was operating the boat and responsible for everyone onboard – five children and seven adults total. He said Thompson refused field sobriety and breathalyser tests, requiring the DNR to get warrants to take blood which was sent to SLED for analysis.
Thompson was charged with two counts of driving under the influence with a water vehicle resulting in death, according to McCullough.
McCullough said the 9-year-old boy was wearing a life jacket but the baby was found without one.
Deputy Coroner Charlie Boseman identified the boys as 9-year-old Christian Henderson, of Piedmont, and the baby was Timothy Blayne Dragoo, of Greer. The baby’s father said he was on the boat with Blayne’s mom was holding him when the boat capsized, and at some point when they were trying to hold him, the life jacket the baby was wearing slipped off. Boseman said both boys drowned.
According to Boseman, both boys’ moms were also onboard the boat with other friends.
DNR Lt. DJ Riley said the boat was a 19-foot tritoon, deck-style boat. He said by law, life jackets are only required for children 12 years or younger on boat less than 16-feet-long, so technically no one was required to have on a life jacket though everyone is urged to at all times.
DNR agents were back out on the scene Monday morning investigating the accident and pulled the boat out of the water, but do not know yet what happened. DNR said they do not know what the capacity of the boat was at this point but are looking into it, but Boseman said some witnesses thought too many people were onboard.
“Some of the witnesses stated they didn’t realize until they were wet what had happened,” Riley said.
McCullough said they will try to reconstruct the accident but because everything was in the water, it is difficult as the evidence shifts around from the flow of the water and it may take a while to determine what happened to the boat to cause it to capsize.
Residents said the area is called Apple Island and is a part of Lake Hartwell. One neighbor said they have lived there for more than 47 years and have never heard of a drowning in the area.
The Department of Natural Resources and Anderson County Technical Rescue were also on the scene Sunday night. DNR is handling the investigation.