Connor Cook — a survivor of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach — recently filed a personal injury lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh and other alleged contributors.
Connor Cook filed the lawsuit more than four months after Paul Murdaugh — the alleged driver in the crash — was found murdered in Colleton County, South Carolina and three weeks after Alex Murdaugh allegedly staged a bizarre suicide-for-hire insurance fraud scheme that landed him momentarily behind bars.
On February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh allegedly crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat owned by his father, Alex Murdaugh, into a piling just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina. 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed in that crash. Connor Cook suffered a broken jaw.
The lawsuit alleges that Alex Murdaugh conspired with others — including attorney Cory Fleming — to frame Connor Cook in the boating accident that killed Mallory Beach. The Murdaugh family and Cory Fleming have ties to at least three deaths that took place prior to the double homicide of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh in June.
In 2018, Fleming represented Gloria Satterfield’s family in the wrongful death settlement against Alex Murdaugh — but her sons say they never received a dime of the settlement money.
Last week, Satterfield’s sons sued Alex Murdaugh, claiming he encouraged them to use Fleming as their lawyer, but he did not disclose his personal ties to them. Gloria’s sons ended up going with him because they trusted Alex, according to the lawsuit.
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Connor Cook’s lawsuit alleges nearly the exact same thing — that Alex Murdaugh “encouraged and instructed” him to retain Fleming as his lawyer because he’s the “best.”
Fleming should not have been involved in either case considering his deep ties to the Murdaugh family. He was Alex Murdaugh’s close friend, according to multiple accounts.
However, Connor Cook, like Satterfield’s boys, trusted that Alex was pointing him in the right direction so he went ahead and hired Fleming to represent him in the criminal case. Connor Cook and Paul Murdaugh were the two main suspects after a chaotic and muddled initial investigation.
Connor Cook was asked to take a field sobriety test at the hospital that night, while Paul Murdaugh was not.
SCDNR never sought a warrant to compel the hospital to draw Paul’s blood that night, but the hospital did anyway because he was perceived as behaving so erratically. The doctor said that no drugs were found in Paul’s system.
On the day after the crash, Cook told Fleming that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat at the time they hit the Archer’s Creek Bridge, just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Fleming instructed Cook as his client not to speak with police. This advice directly benefited Paul Murdaugh, while “increasing the potential” that Cook would be criminally charged in the case.
The alleged scheme is a violation of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Responsibility for attorneys, according to the lawsuit.
Alex Murdaugh and others were “orchestrating a campaign to have Connor Cook held criminally and civilly responsible for the boat accident,” the lawsuit said.
Cook eventually hired a new attorney after realizing Fleming’s major conflicts of interest in the case.
Because of the initial confusion in the investigation, it took two months for authorities to charge Paul with three felony counts of boating under the influence. Unlike the vast majority of felony BUI cases, Paul Murdaugh never set foot in a jail cell. At the time of his death, he was facing 25 years in prison for the charges.
During the two months before Paul was charged, “Connor Cook and his family lived in fear and anticipation that Connor would be wrongly charged as the boat operator,” the lawsuit said.
Cook and his family, who are from Hampton County, were aware of the Murdaugh’s power and influence in Lowcountry law enforcement. Three generations of Murdaughs all served as solicitors over a five-county region in the South Carolina Lowcountry from 1920-2006, enabling the family to amass hundreds of political, prosecutorial and law enforcement connections. Before he was suspended from practicing law, Murdaugh worked as a part-time solicitor for the 14th judicial circuit solicitor.
“I mean, just anything they get in, they get out of,” Cook said of the Murdaugh family during a 2020 deposition. “I’ve always been told that.”
While previous court documents filed by Cook alleged that officers conspired to frame him, this lawsuit mostly focuses on Murdaugh and Fleming, among others.
Aside from the conspiracy allegations, Cook’s lawsuit is very similar to the one filed by Mallory Beach’s mother in 2019. The Island Packet first reported on the lawsuit.
‘She’s Gone, Don’t Worry About Her’
Paul’s father, Alex Murdaugh, and grandfather, former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, appeared at the hospital ten minutes after Paul Murdaugh on February 24, according to witness statements.
According to witnesses, Alex Murdaugh appeared to be more concerned with “orchestrating” a plan in the criminal investigation than finding Mallory Beach.
In fact, a security guard overheard Paul’s father on the phone saying “she’s gone, don’t worry about her.” Mallory had only been missing for a few hours at this point.
“Murdaugh—who had a clear conflict of interest as the boat owner and the father of the intoxicated Paul Murdaugh— sought out all or most of the boat passengers in an attempt to control the narrative of what had occurred,” the lawsuit said.
The charge nurse said she could smell alcohol on Alex Murdaugh, according to DNR reports. She told a security guard to “keep an eye on Alex Murdaugh” because he was “trying to enter other patients’ rooms.”
According to the lawsuit, Alex Murdaugh told Cook at the hospital to “keep his mouth shut” and tell police that he didn’t know who was driving the boat.
Cook then had to be transferred to a hospital in Charleston for surgery. He also sustained a concussion in the crash. While he was still in the hospital, officers attempted to interview Cook about who was driving. According to the lawsuit, Cook, who was 19 at the time, didn’t give clear answers because of his medical condition.
The final moments before the crash
Then 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh and five of his college-age friends used his father’s 17-foot Sea Hunt fishing boat to attend a friend’s party on the evening of February 23, 2019.
According to multiple depositions and statements to police, Murdaugh got drunk while he was at the party on alcohol he allegedly purchased at a Parker’s gas station earlier that day.
Paul used his brother Buster’s ID to make the purchase, according to the lawsuit.
Like Beach’s lawsuit, Cook’s lawsuit focuses a lot on this illegal purchase. It also holds Alex Murdaugh responsible for allowing his son to drunkenly drive his boat.
Parker’s Corporation, its owner Greg Parker, and a gas station clerk were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
After the group left Parker’s, Murdaugh — who was already allegedly intoxicated — then decided he wanted to get a shot from Luther’s Rare and Well Done in downtown Beaufort, according to depositions. Murdaugh and Connor Cook then each purchased two rounds of shots — one lemon drop and one Jaeger shot — at Luther’s in downtown Beaufort.
This was captured on surveillance video and by receipts. Paul used his mother’s credit card to buy shots.
While they were at Luther’s, Paul Murdaugh allegedly became even more intoxicated. He is shown on video stumbling as he walked the Beaufort Waterfront to the boat around 1 a.m. EST.
After leaving downtown Beaufort, Paul’s behavior worsened and he started arguing with his girlfriend, according to witness statements.
“Everybody” in the party was trying to talk Paul into letting Mallory’s boyfriend, Anthony Cook, drive the boat and Paul refused, according to depositions and witness statements.
“You think y’all know this river better than me?” Paul Murdaugh said, according to a witness statement. “This is my boat, and I’ll be damned if anyone else drives my boat.”
The investigation files include surveillance footage of the last hours leading up to the crash that killed Mallory Beach on Feb. 24, 2019. Click below to see those videos compiled together in a timeline.
At one point, Paul almost crashed into the Woods Memorial Bridge in downtown Beaufort, but Connor Cook was able to grab the wheel, according to a witness statement.
Paul’s driving scared the other passengers, who said all they were irritated and wanted to go home at this point.
Paul knew everyone was irritated — and taunted his friends by slowing the boat down and driving in circles, witness statements said.
Paul and his girlfriend started to fight. He screamed “horrible” things at her, a witness said.
A “belligerent” Murdaugh would leave the wheel, walk to the front of the boat to yell at her, while Connor Cook would grab the wheel. This happened three times, according to depositions.
“What are you going to do, hit me like you did all those times before?” Paul’s then-girlfriend asked, according to a witness statement.
Paul Murdaugh then pushed, spit on, and slapped his then-girlfriend in the face, according to multiple depositions.
In the back of the boat, Mallory Beach and Anthony Cook were fed up, depositions say. Mallory yelled at Paul to stop. She said she was scared of his driving.
“He turned and pointed at her, and I could tell he was about to say something and I told him not to make that mistake and he stared at me for a second and went to the steering wheel,” Anthony Cook said in his deposition.
Shortly thereafter, the boat then accelerated rapidly through the winding waterway of Archer’s Creek, according to the depositions. According to its global positioning satellite data, the boat reached speeds over 30 mph — a high rate of speed for a small marine vessel.
Moments later — at around 2:20 a.m. EST — the boat hit a piling on Archer’s Creek Bridge, just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina. Paul, Mallory and Anthony were flung into the dark water. All of the occupants were injured. Blood was all over the boat.
That was the last time anyone saw Mallory Beach alive.
The boat crash investigation was chaotic from the moment it began — with a 9-1-1 call from Connor Cook that was placed at 2:25 a.m. EST
It took emergency medical services (EMS) — who were dispatched from just a few miles away — nearly forty minutes to get to the scene because first responders were sent to the wrong bridge multiple times.
Paul was also “getting in the face” of an officer on scene and saying “You think you’re a bigger man than I am?” according to a witness statement. However, no police reports mentioned that.
Several witness statements documented Paul’s “aggressive behavior” toward EMS in the ambulance to Beaufort Memorial Hospital. A deputy with the Beaufort County sheriff’s office was assigned to ride in the ambulance with Paul, who received minor injuries, and they “had to strap him down,” according to witness statements.
The Murdaughs are out to pin it on him’
In August, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office released hours of dashcam video from the scene at Archer’s Creek Bridge on February 24, 2019.
The videos show Anthony Cook was clear with law enforcement from the very beginning that his cousin Connor was not driving the boat at the time of the crash.
Particularly, Anthony Cook told Austin Pritcher — one of the SCDNR officers accused of manipulating his reports to favor Paul Murdaugh — that Paul was driving moments before the craft crashed into a piling.
Who was driving the boat?” Pritcher asked.
“(When) I grabbed my girlfriend and got down to the bottom of the boat, Paul was driving,” Anthony said.
“Paul was driving?” Pritcher asked.
“Yes, sir,” Anthony responded.
Pritcher did not write that in his SCDNR report, however.
Instead, he wrote that Anthony “did not know” who was driving the boat.
Pritcher wrote in his report that other officers who arrived on scene “thought it was Connor Cook or Paul Murdaugh” driving the boat — yet in all of the police reports, there is no evidence of any witnesses on scene telling law enforcement that Connor was driving.
The exchange between law enforcement and “Keith” Anthony Cook (shown on video below) is one of the only recorded statements from witnesses in the case.
Anthony told SCDNR several days after the accident that “Connor was not driving the boat” and said that his cousin Connor was scared because “the Murdaughs are out to pin it on him.”
While the criminal investigation of Paul Murdaugh ended with his death, authorities are now looking into obstruction of justice allegations involving his prominent family members including Alex Murdaugh, according to FITSNews sources and attorneys representing boat crash survivors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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