Fatal Boating Under The Influence Incident Inspires South Carolina Family To Seek New Safety Law
“We were just going to go out for a quick boat ride to see the stars …”
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Morgan Kiser has experienced the sort of trauma few of us could ever conceptualize – let alone live through. The sort of real-life carnage you typically only see depicted in horror movies.
Not only did she live through it, though, she is willing to relive it – as many times as is necessary – to ensure what happened to her doesn’t happen to others.
Regular readers of this news outlet are familiar with Kisers’ story …
Shortly before 9:00 p.m. EDT on September 21, 2019, Morgan and her parents – Stanley Kiser and Shawn Kiser – were headed home in Stanley’s new pontoon boat near Susie Ebert Island in Lake Murray just northwest of Columbia, S.C. when a Baja boat driven by Tracy L. Gordon of Elgin, S.C. slammed into them.
The crash killed Stanley Kiser and severely injured his wife. In fact, Shawn Kiser’s leg was amputated as a result of injuries she sustained in the collision.
According to Shawn, her husband pushed her out of the way of Gordon’s onrushing watercraft – which saved her life. In turn, Morgan saved her mother’s life by ripping off the dress that covered her bathing suit and fashioning a makeshift tourniquet around her badly mangled leg.
According to an incident report filed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Gordon failed a field sobriety test at the scene of the crash. After being transferred to Richland County’s Alvin S. Glenn detention center, he refused to submit to a breathalyzer examination. A search warrant was later obtained for a blood sample from Gordon – after which he was formally charged with three counts of boating under the influence.
He has since been charged with reckless homicide in connection with Stanley Kiser’s death.
Gordon was initially denied bond, but was later released on a $100,000 surety bond over the vehement objections of the Kiser family.
In an exclusive interview with FITSNews earlier this month, Morgan Kiser and Shawn Kiser recalled that fateful night two-and-a-half years ago. They also discussed the upcoming trial of Gordon – and their efforts to get South Carolina lawmakers to approve more stringent boater safety measures.
“We were just going to go out for a quick boat ride to see the stars and come back,” Shawn Kiser said. “On the way home – I could see the house – I couldn’t wait to get on the couch and get on my pajamas and settle down. (Then) out of nowhere – out of nowhere – this boat just runs right over us.”
(Click to view)
“We were all in a row, Morgan, myself and Stan – and it just – it just ran right over the top of us – killing my husband,” Shawn (above) continued. “He pushed me out of the way so my legs got in the propeller – I lost one leg, almost lost two.”
Morgan Kiser was saved when a seat on the pontoon boat “crushed her down on the floor,” her mother said.
“Not that I can see any blessings out of this, but a blessing as a mother is that my daughter didn’t get hurt,” Shawn Kiser said.
“We were almost home – you could basically see our house – so close,” Morgan Kiser recalled. “All of a sudden … it just sounded like metal, like you were in like a car being crushed, a metal car being crushed – and you didn’t know if you were going to survive or not.”
“It felt like an eternity underneath that metal – that loud metal,” Morgan continued.
Upon emerging from the crash, Morgan called out to her parents – but only her mother answered.
What she saw in the water – which she described in the interview in agonizing detail – is beyond graphic. Frankly, I am amazed she is able to even think – let alone speak about it.
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“The guilt that comes along with not being able to save him is a lot to deal with,” Morgan said, recalling the moment of her father’s death. “I’m really glad my mom’s here though, so. To have to choose between your parents is really tough.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Morgan has been leading an effort to pass tougher boater safety laws. Citing data from a proposed legislative proclamation, South Carolina is home to more than half a million registered watercraft – part of a $5.1 billion industry.
“We are in the top twenty states for the highest (boating-related) death count,” Kiser told me. “Of these top twenty states we are one of only three states that doesn’t already have a mandatory education course for adult boat operators.”
Kiser pointed readers to S. 497, a bill which unanimously cleared the Senate last year and is currently awaiting a hearing before the S.C. House judiciary committee. If the bill clears the House – and is signed by governor Henry McMaster – SCDNR would administer a boating safety course to all watercraft operators born after July 1, 2006 (and award certificates upon the completion of the course).
“What if we made our waterways safer so that no one else had to suffer?” Kiser said.
The Kisers declined to comment on the status of various civil cases involving their family, but they did weigh in on the criminal case against Gordon – which has yet to go to trial.
“Do I feel justice will be done in this case?” Morgan Kiser said. “Well, I want to believe justice will be done in this case – but justice can’t really be done in this case. I want to believe the legal system will give my parents justice for what happened but I haven’t seen it yet. They just keep pushing it back and you just have to keep reliving it over and over you can’t ever get to a point where it’s like – closure – because you’re sitting here waiting for justice all the time wondering if it’s going to happen.”
“He hired a hot shot lawyer right off the bat,” she said, referring to S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian.
According to fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson, Harpootlian no longer represents Gordon.
Gipson (correctly) told me solicitors no longer control the dockets in their judicial circuits, but that he expected the Kiser case to be set “sometime in the fall.”
“We’ll be ready to go when it happens,” Gipson told me.
Want to support the Kisers in their ongoing campaign to make South Carolina waterways safer? Visit SafeTheLake.com, a site “dedicated to Stan Kiser and those who have lost their lives on Lake Murray due to preventable boating accidents.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. Oh, he also has LOTS of hats … but has given them up for Lent this year.
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