Mothers who lost children in boating accidents warn lake goers - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Mothers who lost children in boating accidents warn lake goers about boating safety

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Kelli Bullard and Matthew Howk. Kelli Bullard and Matthew Howk.

Too often, the warnings about being cautious on South Carolina's waterways are heard, but disregarded.

National Boating Safety Week starts Saturday and this year, those with the Lake Murray Safety Consortium are kicking off the week with a memorial service.

One of the mothers who will be there never thought she'd be sitting in an audience with others whose lives were violently altered.

"We got a phone call about 10, 10:30 p.m. and it was stated they think Kelli was in an accident," said Paula Bullard. "In hindsight, I now know they knew, but how do you tell someone that?"

And with those words, a part of Bullard's life ended as she learned of her 25-year-old daughter's death.

Kelli Bullard was with some friends on a boat enjoying a late evening ride on Lake Murray near Lighthouse Marina. It was May 1, 2010.

Kelli and her friend, Amber Golden, both died when another boater, driving drunk, hit their boat.

"It was just a tragic, tragic night," Bullard said. "Such a tragic night."

Incredibly, the night would continue to become even more tragic.

911 operators faced confusion as calls came in that two boats had just collided. They had already received those calls. Did it happen again?

DNR had even more chaos to sort out with yet another accident, near the same location within a half hour.

"To my recollection they were less than 200 yards apart," said DNR Investigator Ray Lewis. "About a half an hour apart. But this is the general area with the Lighthouse being back that way, Lake Murray Marina being back over here."

And like in the accident just minutes before, two more people, this time two young men would die.

One of them was Matthew Kyle Howk.

"I sincerely hope that other families can be spared the heartache of losing a loved one in such a senseless manner," said Mary Howk. "Prior to the accident, I was unaware of the hazards of nighttime boating and was happy that my son had the opportunity to enjoy some fun on the lake with his friends. I was in no way prepared for the greatest shock and loss of my life."

Another common denominator in the accidents on that night was alcohol.

"The thing is drinking and driving does not mix, on the water, on the land, flying a plane," Bullard said. "Drinking and driving does not mix."

Very sobering for the drivers responsible for the accidents was facing the law. And especially, the families.

"You are now a member of a club you never asked to join," Bullard. "It never goes away, it never leaves your body, it never leaves your mind. There is not a millisecond that you're not aware that your child is no longer with you."

A night of fun ended with four lives lost and countless others, many of whom were in the courtroom seeking justice, were broken.

Even investigators like Ray Lewis and Ken Simmons with DNR are affected by those who make the wrong decisions on the waterways.

"You can't just close the door, lock the office and leave it at work and go home," Lewis said. "It stays with you. We see a lot of horrific things out here and you don't forget that stuff."

A memorial service which kicks off National Boating Safety Week is Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.

It's at Pilgrim Lutheran Church which is on North Lake Drive in Lexington.

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