CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Documents obtained by News 2 via the Freedom of Information Act give a more vivid glimpse into the night of 18-year-old Elijah Weatherspoon’s death. Using witness statements, law enforcement reports, and photographs of evidence, News 2 was able to construct a timeline of the events leading up to the night of June 25, when Weatherspoon went overboard in the Charleston Harbor while boating with friends. The following is, to the best of our knowledge, a snapshot of the circumstances.
A summer boating trip gone wrong
Weatherspoon was one of nine people on the 2020 228 Seafox Commander that day: a 25-year-old man whose father owned the boat, a 33-year-old man, a 23-year-old man, a 21-year old woman, a 19-year-old man, an 18-year-old woman, Weatherspoon, and two 17-year-old girls.
The group spent some time in the area of Shem Creek and departed from Red’s Ice House around 7:40 p.m.
They made their way to Morris Island, where they watched the sun set and had a few drinks. The SC Department of Natural Resources reports that everyone on the boat was drinking that night.
According to the report, 21 BUSCH Light cans, 13 Bud Light Seltzer cans, five White Claws, one Truly, three mini liquor bottles, and one bottle of tequila, as well as marijuana were found on board.
Around 9:17 p.m., the group left Morris Island and anchored in the Charleston Harbor near the Ravenel Bridge.
The next hour would be a whirlwind, with one passenger bleeding out, two men overboard, and one man dead by 10:17 p.m.
The water was rough, according to the report, and Weatherspoon knew that; he entered the water once to use the bathroom — holding on to the boat’s ladder — and struggled to get back up because of the current, which was at around four knots.
The current made pulling up the anchor difficult as well. Two of the passengers were working to get the anchor up at the front of the boat while Weatherspoon sat near the middle. According to the report, witnesses said the boat rocked and Weatherspoon fell over the side where he was sitting.
When Weatherspoon fell, one of the passengers working to get the anchor up dropped the line and yelled “man overboard!” The line got caught around a female passenger’s foot, and the plummeting anchor nearly dragged her overboard as well. She said she clung to the side of the boat to prevent going in.
That passenger suffered multiple fractures and a puncture wound, which caused her to lose a significant amount of blood, as evidenced in photos. She said she has limited memory of the rest of the night, as she fell in and out of consciousness due to blood loss.
Rescue efforts fell short
While this was going on, one of the passengers jumped in to try and rescue Weatherspoon. This passenger said that he had lifeguard and swift water rescue training.
When he reached Weatherspoon, the man said that Weatherspoon was panicking, and he tried to calm him down. The current was pulling them further and further away from the boat, and Weatherspoon was losing stamina.
With no boat in sight, the man told Weatherspoon they would have to swim to shore, and they began backstroking towards Mount Pleasant.
A nearby boat with Palmetto Tour Boats heard cries for help and threw them a life preserver. The captain called the US Coast Guard around 10:17 p.m. to report two men in the water.
Witnesses on the tour boat told law enforcement that the man appeared to be holding Weatherspoon up in a “rescue” position, and trying to tread water for the both of them.
The witness said that as the man was struggling to keep Weatherspoon afloat and reach the life preserver, the Seafox appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The man swam towards the boat, and Weatherspoon slipped under. He did not resurface.
Multiple people reported the man asking those on the boat why they left him and Weatherspoon out there for 30 minutes, though it is unclear how much time actually passed.
Various witnesses also reported seeing the passengers on the Seafox dumping alcohol overboard, and cans and bottles were reported floating in the water.
Once on board, the man that had jumped in to try and save Weatherspoon took action again, tying a tourniquet around the injured passenger’s leg and telling the driver to take everyone back to Remleys Point boat landing so that the injured passenger could receive medical treatment. She was taken to MUSC.
At 10:31 p.m., the driver of the Seafox called authorities to report the incident, as they were heading back out from the boat landing to continue the search.
Upon returning to the scene, the boaters met up with law enforcement units, who had taken over the search.
The US Coast Guard searched for 20.1 hours, using 20 sorties, 8 surface units, and 2 helicopters. Multiple other agencies including the Mount Pleasant Police Department, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, North Charleston Fire Department and SC Department of Natural Resources aided in the search.
On June 28, Weatherspoon’s body was discovered near Breach Inlet, over five miles from where he went missing. The coroner determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation due to drowning.