Originally created 09/30/03

Diver's death prompts push for boating licenses



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Labor Day weekend death of a diver on the Cooper River has prompted his family, friends and other divers to push for changes in state boating laws, including requiring licenses for boaters.

William "Kenny" Mizell III, left his home in Virginia Beach, Va., for a long weekend of diving in South Carolina with two friends. He died Aug. 31 when he was struck and killed by a boat as he surfaced from a 36-minute dive.

His friends and other divers hope to have signs posted at boat landings showing the diver down flag - a red flag with a diagonal white stripe - to alert boaters and fishermen about divers in the area.

The group is also concerned that anyone older than 16 can drive a boat in South Carolina without a license or training.

Following several years of decline, there have been 29 boating fatalities in the state this year. Last year, there were only 14, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Lt. Robert McCullough of the department said there has been discussion of boating licenses in the past "but it's just one of those things that's tough to get passed."

Alabama is the only state requiring boating licenses through its motor vehicle department.

"Boating is recreational and, historically, it's been difficult to regulate fun," McCullough said.

But that doesn't deter Mizell's friends and family.

Mizell's father, Bill Mizell Jr., said a diver down flag "is kind of like and stop sign and you just don't run it."

He said his son's death was probably instantaneous. "The boater that hit him may or may not have known and was probably moving at a high rate of speed," he said.

The red and white flag is flown from a boat and some divers attach boating flags to themselves. Under state law, boaters are to stay at least 50 feet from the flag.

Mizell's family and other divers say they want to work toward a law that would extend the berth given divers.

They note a Florida law requires a 300-foot berth. Where waterways are too narrow, boaters must slow to idle speed when passing closer to the diver down flag.