ELIZABHETHTOWN — A Robeson County sheriff’s deputy and a woman who were killed in a jet ski accident Tuesday night may have struck a downed tree that they could not see in the dark, according Officer C.P. White with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
“Both of them had on life jackets,” White said. “I think the main cause of the accident was high speed and poor visibility.”
Thomas Bradley Carter, 30, of Pembroke, and Charlotte Paige McLellan, 27, of Lumberton, were killed near Lock and Dam 2 on the Cape Fear River, Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey said in a statement sent out Wednesday afternoon.
Carter had worked as a sheriff’s deputy since Nov. 9, 2010.
White, who was on the scene for nearly three hours on Wednesday, said the accident likely occurred after 9 p.m. on Tuesday. Two fishermen spotted the jet ski and secured it to a downed tree before spotting the body of one of the victims, White said. After getting a call at about 7 a.m. Wednesday, rescue personnel found the second body.
“The jet ski and the bodies were probably 250 yards from the site of the accident,” White said.
Jet skis are not equipped with lights, White said, and it is illegal to operate them from sunset to sunrise
White said currents near where the accident happened are not particularly strong, especially since the water is low.
“We haven’t had a drowning on the Cape Fear River in Bladen County for quite a few years,” he said, noting surrounding counties have had a few recently.
But White said anyone heading out on the river should take caution.
“Life jackets don’t work if you don’t wear them. If you’re going to be navigating any motor vessel after sunset you need to have proper lighting and possibly spotlights and lower your speed,” he said. “It’s like driving a vehicle.”
Sealey said the accident is still under investigation by the commission and the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, and that no further details were available. White said the cause of the deaths has not been confirmed.
Revels Funeral Home in Lumberton is handling funeral arrangements.