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Alex Murdaugh Orchestrated Cover-Up, Tried to Blame Someone Else for Son’s Deadly Boating Crash: Lawsuit

Richard Alexander "Alex" Murdaugh appears in a jail mugshot taken Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Hampton County, S.C.

Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh appears in a jail mugshot taken Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Hampton County, S.C.

A South Carolina man has sued two members of the Murdaugh family on accusations surrounding a Feb. 24, 2019 boat crash which killed a young woman and left the plaintiff in the instant action injured. The lawsuit alleges that legal scion Alex Murdaugh orchestrated a cover-up of his son Paul Murdaugh’s involvement in the crash and that other Murdaugh family members were also to blame.

Connor Cook, then 19, says he was a passenger on the boat that Paul Murdaugh was steering while “intoxicated.” The boat crashed into a bridge; Mallory Beach, also 19, was killed. Connor Cook, the cousin of Beach’s former boyfriend Anthony Cook, was referenced in audio from the night of the boat crash.

The named defendants in Cook’s civil lawsuit are Paul’s father Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh and Paul’s brother Richard Alexander Murdaugh, Jr. (Though he isn’t listed as such in the lawsuit, Murdaugh, Jr. goes by the nickname “Buster.”)  Also named are Gregory M. Parker, Inc., a local convenience store in Ridgeland, S.C., and Tajeeha Cohen, a clerk at the store.

The lawsuit alleges that the since-murdered Paul Murdaugh used his brother’s license “to purchase large quantities of alcohol” at the convenience store. He’s also alleged to have used a “third-party credit card” that “did not belong to Paul Murdaugh.” It says “reasonable scrutiny” should have led the store’s staff to determine that Paul was “not of legal age to purchase alcohol.”

Paul, Maggie, Alex, and Buster Murdaugh appear in an image obtained by NBC's "Today."

Paul, Maggie, Alex, and Buster Murdaugh appear in an image obtained by NBC’s “Today.”

The lawsuit then describes the boat crash which ensued and Cook’s injuries which resulted therefrom:

After consuming this alcohol through the day and into the early morning hours of February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh, drunk and traveling at excessive speeds down a narrow creek in the night, without a proper look-out or proper lights, crashed the boat belonging to his father, Richard Alexander Murdaugh, (hereinafter “Murdaugh”) into the Archer’s Creek Bridge with such force as to eject several of the boat passengers into the water and cause Connor Cook to strike his body on the boat frame, to lose consciousness and awake with a serious cut to his face and multiple fractures to his jaw. One passenger’s life, Mallory Beach, was lost forever and the surviving passengers suffered both physical and mental injuries.

The lawsuit alleges that the Murdaugh family — including Paul’s parents and older brother Buster — knew that Paul Murdaugh “would often drink to the point of intoxication and was known to operate family vehicles, including boats, while under the influence of alcohol.”

“Paul Murdaugh was permitted unrestricted use of the family credit card belonging to his mother to purchase alcohol, a fact known to the family and parents,” it continues. It goes on to describe the transaction which the lawsuit alleges led to the crash:

Around 5:30 P.M. on February 23, 2019, Parker’s through its employee, Defendant Cohen, knowingly and willfully sold around $50.00 of alcoholic beverages to Paul Murdaugh. The purchase was made using the family credit card and Defendant Murdaugh Jr.’s driver’s license, and the sale was achieved by Parker’s inattention, Parker’s monetary focus on transaction speed at the expense of proper license checks, and failed scrutiny by Parker’s staff, all in violation of South Carolina law.

Surveillance footage immediately after the alcohol sale shows Paul Murdaugh placing the alcohol purchased at Parker’s into the boat which he would later crash into the Archer’s Creek Bridge in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019. That same alcohol was consumed by Paul Murdaugh and other underage passengers during that evening and into the early hours preceding the boat crash, causing Paul Murdaugh to become intoxicated.

The lawsuit paints Paul Murdaugh as a habitual drunk who consumed alcohol under the eye of his father — whose attorneys recently claimed was a prescription drug addict.

The use of the boat by Paul Murdaugh at all times relevant and in other days prior, was with the express permission of Defendant Murdaugh, who knew the boat was frequently used as a platform for the consumption of alcohol when used by Paul Murdaugh and friends.

The lawsuit also alleges that Paul Murdaugh didn’t just drink before the crash using alcohol purchased from the convenience store:

Following an oyster roast that evening, Paul Murdaugh, already substantially intoxicated and over the protests of several passengers, steered the boat to a restaurant in Beaufort, where he consumed additional alcohol using his brother’s driver’s license and the family credit card to make the purchase.

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh, under the influence of alcohol and operating his father’s boat with his father’s express permission, crashed into the Archer’s Creek Bridge with such force that it ejected some passengers into the water and caused Plaintiff Connor Cook to become unconscious and strike his face with great force on the boat frame resulting a serious cut to his face, and multiple fractures to his jaw, among other injuries. Mallory Beach, another passenger in the boat and a close friend of Plaintiff Cook, was killed, and the remaining passengers suffered mental and physical injuries.

And, the lawsuit alleges that various South Carolina investigative agencies turned a blind eye toward what had occurred:

Soon after, Connor Cook placed a 911 call for help and emergency personnel, and multiple law enforcement agencies arrived on the scene of the boat accident. Based on deposition testimony, law enforcement upon arrival knew or should have known that alcohol was involved in the crash and should also have immediately known, or concluded, that the operator of the boat was Paul Murdaugh, given his obvious state of intoxication, his family’s ownership of the boat, the loud and angry statements by at least one of the passengers that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat at the time of the collision, and the belligerent and combative behavior of Paul Murdaugh. Despite this information, the multiple agencies present immediately following the accident made no reasonable investigation of who was operating the boat at the time of the accident.

Despite multiple statements to law enforcement that Murdaugh was steering the boat, Cook says he was the only one subjected to sobriety checks, and the lawsuit says nobody was ordered to submit to a blood draw to determine whether they were intoxicated.

The lawsuit also alleges that Paul’s father orchestrated a cover-up:

Most of the hospital personnel that night, who interacted with Paul Murdaugh and the passengers, were interviewed by law enforcement. It appears that at the hospital, Defendant 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. Defendant Murdaugh found Plaintiff Cook as he was on the way to have his jaw x-rayed, where Defendant Murdaugh negligently or intentionally instructed Plaintiff Cook that everything would be all right, telling him to “keep his mouth shut” and inform law enforcement he did not know who was driving the boat at the time of the crash. In conformity with the investigation by Defendant Murdaugh, Plaintiff Cook gave vague explanations of the accident.

The lawsuit further alleges that Alex Murdaugh lined up an attorney to represent Cook. Cook says he told Cory Fleming that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat. Yet Fleming allegedly told Cook not to talk to law enforcement — thus preventing investigators from again hearing that Paul Murdaugh was the true culprit behind the crash.

“Such advice was to the advantage of Paul and Defendant Murdaugh and against the interests of Fleming’s new client, Plaintiff Cook, increasing the potential that Plaintiff Cook would continue to be a suspect and potentially face criminal charges as operator of the boat,” the lawsuit claims. Moreover:

Unbeknownst and undisclosed to Plaintiff Cook and his parents at the time Fleming was hired, Fleming failed to disclose that he had been Defendant Murdaugh’s college roommate, was one of his best friends, and was also Paul Murdaugh’s ‘godfather.’ Defendant Murdaugh and Fleming never disclosed these conflicts of interest to Plaintiff Cook; instead, they encouraged and instructed Plaintiff Cook not to cooperate with law enforcement. Fleming’s instructions served to convert the unwitting Plaintiff Cook into an agent of protection for Paul Murdaugh, exposing Plaintiff Cook to the potential of being charged as boat operator and therefore responsible for the accident.

Cook claims Alex Murdaugh ultimately tried to pin the crash on him:

Shortly thereafter, it became known to Plaintiff Cook and his family that Defendant Murdaugh and others were orchestrating a campaign to have Connor Cook held criminally and civilly responsible for the boat accident, through inadequate investigation, a “whisper campaign” in the Hampton County community, and law enforcement misdirection and possible obstruction of the investigation.

The silence of Connor Cook as to the operation of the boat by Paul Murdaugh – at the most critical point in the investigation – was induced and obtained by Defendant Murdaugh and subsequently by Fleming by convincing Connor Cook they were acting in his best interests as lawyers and family friends and relying on the power of the Murdaughs’ reputation, either by design or negligence. Plaintiff Cook, when deposed in January 2020 in the Mallory Beach case, testified he was afraid of the Murdaughs because of “them being who they are.” As Plaintiff Cook testified, “just anything they get in they get out of. I’ve always been told that.”

The court papers allege that a blood draw that was taken from Paul Murdaugh at the hospital “for medical purposes” registered a 0.28 blood alcohol level once tested — “over three times the legal limit for operation of a boat or vehicle.”

The lawsuit says the investigation into the boat crash dragged out for two months. It characterized the criminal inquiry as being “stymied by possible obstruction and silence.”

“During that period, Connor Cook and his family lived in fear and anticipation that Connor would be wrongly charged as the boat operator,” the document says. “After Connor Cook obtained new counsel and information was provided to prosecutors, the investigation culminated in the prosecution’s decision based on the evidence to arrest and charge Paul Murdaugh.”

The lawsuit alleges negligence and “dram shop” liability against the convenience store and Cohen; negligent entrustment (for letting Paul use the boat), negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Alex Murdaugh; and both negligent entrustment and negligence against Buster Murdaugh. It alleges that the various defendants are jointly and severally liable.

Read the documents below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.