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Billy Keyserling

Update – Former Beaufort mayor injured in boating accident

From staff reports

Former City of Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling was unresponsive when he was pulled from the water following a boating accident on the Beaufort River today, Saturday, May 21.

Keyserling was admitted to the intensive care unit at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and is reportedly now breathing on his own.

A sailboat with Billy and his brother Paul aboard capsized near the Beaufort Sandbar around 1 p.m., throwing both men into the water. 

Tara and Phillip Hodges were on their boat headed back toward Beaufort from Port Royal when they noticed a sinking sailboat. Other bystanders had already arrived and a rescue effort was underway. 

When the Hodges joined the rescue effort, two men were in the water trying to keep Billy’s head above water and get him into another boat, but the deep-well design made it difficult. The Hodge’s low-profile boat proved a better option, and Billy was loaded aboard.

“One nurse from one boat jumped onto our boat and started doing CPR on him,” Tara said. “Then another nurse jumped onto our boat. She relieved the first nurse, and we took off to go to the docks at the hospital. My husband was driving. If the fire trucks had not been there, we would have never have seen the docks. There’s nothing there that lets you know there are docks there from the distance we were at. We had to go around the sandbar and people were screaming to go faster.”

Beaufort Port Royal Fire Department (BPRFD) firefighters were waiting on the docks when the Hodges arrived. The faces there were familiar to Tara, who works as an office manager for the BPRFD. While she regularly reads the department’s incident reports, it’s rare that she sees the department in action first hand.  

“Watching them, it was like magic,” Tara stated. “(Billy) was blue. The nurse on the boat with us said he was dead. They picked him up onto that dock, and our guys got him back. They didn’t stop. They kept pumping water out of him. He had tons of water they pumped out of him. They continued to do CPR and put him on oxygen. All of the sudden I heard one of them yell, ‘He’s got a pulse. He’s got a pulse.’ I still get chills. It was amazing.”

Tara noted that Paul was still in the water when they left the scene, but he was holding on to an item for floatation and appeared uninjured. In addition to the firefighters, Tara credited the nurses who attended Billy; the men who got him out of the water and her husband Phillip for getting the boat safely across the sand bar at high speed with saving Billy’s life. She said he would have never survived if they had run aground.  

“Everybody was trying to do the best they can to help get this guy out of the water,” Tara said. “Nobody knew who it was. We were just trying to save this man’s life, get him out of the water and to the hospital.”

Sources said that Billy was admitted to the intensive care unit at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and was initially placed on a respirator. No official word on his current condition has been made available. 

The Beaufort Port Royal Fire Department assisted in the rescue, confirmed Deputy Chief Ross Vezin.

Greg Lucas, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said that DNR resources responded to the boating accident around 1:30 p.m. Lucas added that the accident is under investigation. 

Keyserling, 73, served three terms as mayor of Beaufort. He was first elected in 2008 and ran unopposed in 2012 and 2016. He opted not to run in 2020. 

This is a breaking news story. It will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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