The body of a teenage boater was found Tuesday - the day after the vessel he was operating struck a channel marker in Murrells Inlet on the Waccamaw River.
The small boat hit Channel Marker 57 just north of the Wacca Wache Marina off Wachesaw Road about 8 p.m. Monday, sending at least one of the two teen boys on board into the dark water of the Waccamaw.
One teen was found immediately after the crash and was in the hospital Tuesday afternoon, but a search lasted into the night until the body of 17-year-old Jacob Perry Lee Causey of Murrells Inlet was discovered by S.C. Department of Natural Resource divers about 10:50 a.m. Tuesday.
Emotion erupted from friends and relatives at the scene when the discovery was made by DNR divers, who were aided by Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office deputies and boats, along with the U.S. Coast Guard.
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“He was just the sweetest guy. Everyone loved him. He was so loyal and dedicated,” said Ashlyn Ethridge, 18, who was Causey’s girlfriend of nearly two years.
He was just the sweetest guy. Everyone loved him. He was so loyal and dedicated.
Ashlyn Ethridge, girlfriend of Jacob Causey
Ethridge ran through a crowd of authorities and bystanders at the marina about 9 p.m. Monday after the crash and nested at the end of a dock through the evening without rest as crews scoured the murky river.
After waiting all night, she was beginning to fear the worst Tuesday morning. Tears ran down her face as she briefly talked about her boyfriend she said she loved deeply.
The couple met at Hanser House, an Ocean Highway restaurant in Pawleys Island, where Ethridge was working. Causey was a student at Calvary Christian School in Myrtle Beach, but Ethridge is a student in Georgetown, and the pair would drive nearly an hour each day to see each other.
When he called her Monday yearning to take out the boat that once belonged to a relative, she said she urged him not to go.
“I told him it was too late, and don’t do it. Wait until I’m there tomorrow and we can go during the day, but he insisted on going out, so I said OK, well at least bring someone with you, so he brought his friend,” Ethridge said.
Causey grew up on the water hunting and fishing and wanted to teach his friend who had just moved to the Lowcountry all about outdoor activities. Friends and family along the riverbank were stunned that someone like Causey who knew the ways of the water so well could end up in a boating crash, Ethridge said.
“He knows this like the back of his hand. That’s why it’s so shocking,” said Ethridge.
Officials said Causey’s friend was in fair condition at Grand Strand Medical Center but he didn’t recall details of the crash.
When crews discovered Causey, Ethridge erupted into tears and was taken from the area in an ambulance after friends said she suffered a panic attack and was weakened from sitting on the dock all night.
“I was so close with him. … He was such a great person. … It’s just so sad,” said Savannah Casselman, a friend of Causey and Etheridge who was there with her mother Misty Gause.
Prior to Causey’s discovery, friends and relatives looked for him in their small motor boats, searching the dark of the Waccamaw.
“Seeing them in boats looking for him just broke my heart,” said Casselman.
Before the discovery, Jackson Martin, Causey’s cousin, took his boat out hoping to find his missing cousin and friend.
“It’s a rough day for all of us,” he said before Causey was found.
Causey suffered a head injury during the crash, and an autopsy is scheduled to determine he died from the injury or drowned, said Kenny Johnson Georgetown County Coroner.
Johnson said an incident involving a child is always more difficult.
“It’s my understanding this young man was very, very smart, intelligent, and was looking forward to a great career and this happens. You don’t ever expect it and what the family must be going through, I can’t imagine,” Johnson said.
It’s my understanding this young man was very, very smart, intelligent, and was looking forward to a great career and this happens. You don’t ever expect it and what the family must be going through, I can’t imagine.
Kenny Johnson, Georgetown County Coroner
Causey wanted to be a game warden, said Sam Hodge, manager of Georgetown County Emergency Management who is related to Causey and was at the search for support. Hodge’s wife is Causey’s cousin.
“The family is doing probably as well as expected under the circumstances,” Hodge said.
The crash comes during national safe boating week, and officials warned of the dangers on the water and stressed the importance of safe practices.
“I would encourage that any boat operator or individuals that are going to be passengers in a boat be aware of boater education and take a boater education course because they’re free and they’re taught in every county in the state by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at no charge, by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and other private organizations,” said Robin Camlin, officer with DNR.
Camlin stressed the importance of wearing a life jacket, being aware of surroundings and any obstructions, and attaching an ignition safety switch.
Friends and family said Causey was experiencing motor trouble the night of the crash; however, the incident and its cause are still under investigation, authorities said.
Mark Roland, principal of Calvary Christian School, said that Causey was known throughout the school he attended since a toddler as a “larger than life” character.
“Jacob Causey was loved by all the students and faculty and staff here,” Roland said. “Because we’re such a small school, everyone knew him.”
Roland said staff met with students Tuesday morning in preparation of any bad news and have counselors on hand for any grieving students. Faculty prayed with students Tuesday morning that Causey’s fate would be resolved quickly, and Roland encouraged students to think of Causey in heaven.
Roland remembered Causey as a respectable young man who would rather have been in a hunting stand than in class, but was loved by all his friends.
“Nobody had anything against him. He was very well liked by the student body,” Roland said.
The Sun News staff reporter Claire Byun contributed to this report.