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Teen Drowns in River: Search Begins As Friends on Camping Trip Find Empty Boat

April 4, 2007

By Tonya Root, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Apr. 4–CONWAY — A 16-year-old Carolina Forest High School student drowned in the Waccamaw River early Tuesday during a camping trip with his friends near downtown, authorities said.

Divers found the body of James “Tra” Elliott III around 4 p.m. Tuesday near the site where the boat in which he was riding alone was found.

An autopsy is scheduled for today.

His friends found the empty boat about 12:30 a.m., Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said.

He was reported missing just before 1 a.m. while camping along the river with several friends who are on spring break this week.

While divers searched Tuesday, Elliott’s family and friends waited along the riverbanks for information on his whereabouts.

Emergency officials walked the banks of the river, divers searched its dark waters and a helicopter flew over the entire area throughout the day looking for the youth.

James’ friends reported him missing after he went to retrieve some fishing equipment from a relative’s home and never returned to their camping site near S.C. 905 along the river, officials said.

“He was real familiar with the river. We can only assume what happened,” Edge said.

Friends who were with the teen got in another boat and went to look for him but found his boat empty near the river’s bank, said Todd Cartner, public information officer for Horry County Fire Rescue. The boat was not capsized, but there were no signs of the teen, he said.

Officials with Horry County Fire Rescue, Conway Fire Department and the state Department of Natural Resources used boats to search along the river and divers from both fire departments worked throughout the day before Elliott was found.

“They found the boat and when daylight came, they took a look at where the boat was and started tracking from there,” DNR Lt. Robert McCullough said. “This is always the time when I remind people that wearing your life jacket is so critical. Very seldom we have to do a recovery if somebody is wearing a life jacket.”

This is the first such incident along that section of the Waccamaw River in several years, McCullough said.

Area officials have responded to three missing boater incidents since May, including when an 18-year-old was found alive in January when he got lost on Bull Creek near Bucksport. In the other two incidents, two boaters died.

On Tuesday dozens of friends and family of the missing teen were at the river along Depot Road, which is between U.S. 501 Business and S.C. 90.

They prayed and consoled each other as many of them anxiously paced along the water’s edge.

“They’re doing everything possible … everything that could be done is being done,” said John Stack, a friend of the teen’s family, about midday.

Ron Marsh, whose son, Jeramy, was with the teen, said the group of teens notified police immediately upon finding the boat James was last seen in.

“They were looking for him, they were walking the bank and they had another boat in the water searching,” Marsh said. “It’s every parent’s nightmare.”

The murky waters of the river made seeing underwater difficult and fatigue among the dive team members, who can dive for up to 45 minutes before getting out of the water for mandatory two- or three-hour breaks, kept the other members busy in the search. Searching for someone missing in the Waccamaw River or other body of water in the area can be difficult, officials said.

“It’s frustrating when you can’t find anything,” Cartner said. “There’s so much stuff underwater it makes it so much more difficult to search.”

As boating season gets into full swing with the summer seasonapproaching, Cartner said residents and visitors need to be extra cautious when on the water.

“Allow somebody that’s not in your group to know what your plans are, where you’re going to be and take cell phones with you and make sure they’re charged up,” Cartner said.

“Wear a life jacket if you’re going to be in or near the water and be responsible whether it comes to drinking or anything else you may be doing while out on the water.”

DNR Lt. Robert McCullough

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Area boaters reported missing

January — Walter Green, 18, was found alive after the Coast Guard used the signal from his radio to find him when he got lost on Bull Creek near Bucksport.

December — Hale Sehorn, 25, was first reported missing by his family Dec. 11, emergency officials combed the area near Georgetown Landing Marina for several days in late December, but did not find the missing man who lived aboard a boat docked at the marina.

May — Bob Clarke, 74, was lost at sea after his catamaran fishing boat capsized about 15 miles off the coast. Six other men were plucked from the Atlantic waters hours afterwards. They reported Clarke suffered a heart attack and slipped into the water unresponsive.

8:19 a.m. Tuesday.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 397-7962 or troot@thesunnews.com [mailto:troot@thesunnews.com].

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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