South Carolina Widow’s Suit Places Blame on Feds for Husband’s Flooding Death

By MEG KINNARD | February 3, 2017

The widow of a man who drowned in South Carolina’s historic 2015 flooding is suing the federal government over a dam that failed on an Army base near Columbia.

Filed in federal court in late December, Lois McCarty’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages related to the death of her husband early on the morning of Oct. 4, 2015.

According to the lawsuit, Bob McCarty was in his car about 6:30 a.m. that morning when he was swept away in floodwaters rushing from Semmes Lake, a 29-acre, man-made lake at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest basic training installation.

The lake feeds into a system of creeks and other bodies of water throughout Columbia. According to the lawsuit, McCarty was in an area below the dam when his car was swept away.

The Semmes Lake dam failed about 3 a.m. that day, not long after rain started to fall at about a rate of 2 inches per hour. Meteorologists have said the area received 2 feet of rain in about 12 hours.

The 76-year-old earthen dam was inspected just two years earlier. But after that 2013 review, according to the lawsuit, the government “utterly failed to remedy or even address the dam’s serious risk of failure.”

The government knew the dangers of maintaining the dam “in its seriously hazardous condition but chose not to correct the deficiencies” or repair the dam, lawyers wrote, adding that officials at Fort Jackson also didn’t warn people including McCarty of the dam failure.

In all, four dams failed at Fort Jackson during the massive flood, and authorities have said little about the inspection histories of the dams or repairs they might have done before the flood.

Other lawsuits related to the failure of Semmes Lake’s dam are pending. Property owners in King’s Grant, an upscale subdivision just outside the fort’s gate, are suing the government over millions in property damage, and the subdivision homeowners’ association filed a suit over damage to some of the neighborhood’s common areas.

A spokesman for Fort Jackson did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment on the McCarty lawsuit, and court papers did not list an attorney representing the government.

At least 19 people were killed in the Carolinas in October 2015 during days of historic rain and flooding.

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