The family of an Anderson County Sheriff’s Office deputy who died during a training exercise last year is now suing a federal agency over his death.
30-year-old Devin Hodges died during a June 2017 joint exercise on Lake Hartwell after he and two others were thrown from a boat during an emergency stop maneuver. Hodges’ life jacket became caught in the boat’s engine propeller and he drowned as the boat continued to power with no one aboard.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Anderson Independent Mail, claims a Corps of Engineers employee leading the training exercise was going too fast when he slammed on the emergency stop near Singing Pines Recreation Area. A “kill-switch” lanyard that was supposed to be attached to the employee in order to cut off the engine should he go overboard was not used, according to a DNR investigation.
Investigators said the men had done another emergency stop minutes earlier at a much slower speed.
“It was improper for Jess Fleming to attempt an emergency stop at nearly full speed,” the lawsuit filed by attorney Kenneth Berger states. “This was not a maneuver that was within his discretion, as a safety instructor, to perform. There was no appropriate reason for this type of maneuver, other than Fleming trying to ‘show-off’ his skills as a boat operator.”
Deputies initially filed charges against that driver Joseph Flemming. But the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office ultimately dropped the charges, saying federal law and legal precedent prevent local governments from charging federal employees whose actions occurred during the course of their job.
A Corps of Engineers spokesman said the agency does not respond to active litigation against it.
Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride said the Hodges was part of the department’s marine unit and had only joined the force in January 2017. He previously served with the Calhoun Falls Police before moving to Anderson County’s force. He also served with the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and the Abbeville County Sheriff’s Office.