LAKE WACCAMAW, NC (WECT) - Investigators originally assumed she'd drowned, but new details have emerged about the tragic death of a Columbus County teenager.
16-year-old Raven Little-White died in August after a boating accident on Lake Waccamaw. The medical examiner's report lists "drowning" as the probable cause of death, but a toxicology report that came back later revealed Raven had actually succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Raven was on the boat with nine other kids ranging in age from 11-17 on the evening of the accident. District Attorney Jon David said they were not drinking, but just out having fun when they made a fatal error to accommodate the number of people on the inboard ski boat.
"There were two young women sitting on the back of the swim platform, and as they were driving along, one of the young women began to get woozy, and began walking toward the cockpit area, and her friends were helping her, realizing she was in distress, and something was wrong, and at that same time period Raven, who was sitting on the back of the boat just sort of slipped into the water," David explained.
The carbon monoxide fumes from the motor are most intense at the back of the boat where Raven was sitting. Investigators estimate the boat was traveling at the relatively slow speed of 10 miles per hour, preventing the toxic fumes from dissipating more quickly in the surrounding air.
Even though the back of the boat is known as the "kill zone," experts say many people assume the danger has to do with being injured by the propeller. Wildlife Patrol Officer Matt Criscoe says many people are not aware of the potentially deadly fumes.
"If we're on patrol and we see people hanging out the back of the boat, we'll actually make a stop and just make them aware of it and educate them about it, and a lot of times people don't know about it until we make them aware," Criscoe said.
While there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the motor of any boat, authorities say the danger is elevated on an inboard ski boat.
With an inboard motor, the motor is underneath the boat, and the exhaust fumes come up underneath the swimmer's platform, especially when the boat is idling or traveling at a slow speed. With an outboard motor, the motor is attached to the back of the boat, and the fumes are slightly further away.
Raven was a beautiful and popular girl, remembered by friends for her laughter, her caring personality, and her love of Lilly Pulitzer clothing. The fashion house was so touched by her story that they designed a pattern in Raven's honor.
Raven played volleyball and ran cross country at Whiteville High School, loved swimming and the outdoors and was active in her church youth group at the time of her death.
"The children who were out on the boat that day, they lost one of their best friends, and they're having a difficult time continuing to process that," District Attorney Investigator Scott Pait explained of the impact of Raven's death.
Pait said the family is still so grief-stricken they cannot speak publicly but have encouraged the District Attorney's office to warn others of the risk.
The District Attorney's office and NC Wildlife decided to name part of the boater safety curriculum after Raven.
Instructors will now share the tragic story of her death and incorporate "Raven's Rule" into the lesson when teaching students to avoid the rear area of a boat when it is in operation. It's hoped the real-life example will help people remember the danger and take it more seriously.