A Georgia woman will spend one year in jail after pleading guilty to the accidental deaths of two men who drowned during a birthday boat outing in 2021. Despite the woman showing remorse for the deaths, the family members of the victims believe the court was too lenient with its sentencing and that she should have been sentenced to substantially more time behind bars.
On Tuesday, June 22, Augusta native Shontover Kirkland pleaded guilty at a bench trial in Lincoln County Superior Court to two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the drowning deaths of Eynn Wilson, 37, and Edward Lee Kirk, 34, on Sunday, April 25, 2021. She was originally charged with one count of reckless conduct, but that was dropped.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) presented a compelling case against Kirkland, showing how her actions resulted in Wilson and Kirk’s unnecessary loss of life, WRDW reported.
In efforts to gather the most information in discovery, the GBI was aided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Region 3 Law Enforcement Division, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Lincoln County EMA, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Columbia County Fire Rescue, and the Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
Kirkland was detained by law enforcement shortly after the accident.
The warrant for her arrest stated, she “did unlawfully endanger the bodily safety of Edward Lee Kirk, Jr. by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that her act of shoving him off a boat into deep, cold water on Clarks Hill Lake without knowing whether or not he could swim would endanger the safety of said person and the disregard constituted a gross deviation from the standard care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”
As a result, a judge did not grant her “first offender status” and sentenced her to one year in the Lincoln County jail and 9 years probation.
Lakesha Johnson, the sister of Kirk, said in disapproval of the sentencing, “In our opinion, justice wasn’t served by just a year for costing two people their lives.
Diane Wilson, Wilson’s mother, said, “She took my baby. She took my grandkids’ father from them.”
District Attorney Bill Doupe said, “There were no plea agreements other than what charges Kirkland would plead to. Kirkland pled guilty to two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter based upon reckless conduct.”
“Involuntary manslaughter is the unintended killing of another through the commission of a misdemeanor offense,” Doupe said. “In this case, we alleged reckless conduct was that misdemeanor offense. Kirkland was directly responsible for pushing Edward Kirk into the middle of a deep channel in 69-degree water not knowing whether he could swim or not.”
During the hearing, the prosecution played various versions of videos posted on social media that depicted how the tragedy unfolded. The GBI stated it was from these clips and a 911 call, they were able to put together the puzzle regarding what happened that day near the Cherokee Boat Launch.
The agents assessed on the day of the accident, around 4:30 p.m., Kirkland, 32, went to the Clarks Hill Boat Rental to rent two pontoon boats to host a birthday celebration for one of her friends. The party aimed to include 18 people.
Reports noted the two boats were both parked and tied together.
One clip showed Kirk and a woman in a life vest standing next to each other. From the video, it is clear that other revelers knew the female could not swim. It was unclear about Kirk’s ability.
GBI agents presented a video to the courtroom that captured a woman’s hand, decorated with a certain false nail pattern, and further identified Kirkland as the culprit pushing the two into the water.
While in the water the lady with the life vest was safe. But not Kirk. He was struggling to stay afloat, prompting his best friend Wilson to jump into the water to save him.
The water overcame Wilson also and absorbed the two friends, with video showing them going under and never resurfacing.
Others jumped in to try and rescue the two men but did not have any success.
The family watched in horror as the video revealed the last moments of their loved ones’ lives. For many, this was the first time they saw the video from the water excursion.
Almost one week later, the bodies of the men were recovered by local dive teams.
Traumatized by the ordeal, Johnson said, “We had to relive this whole devastating incident all over again.”
Kirkland took to the mic to apologize for the accident, saying she did not mean to harm her friend, one she had known for over 18 years. She also stated she wants to take full accountability for her actions.
When the news hit social media, many remarked on the dangers of horseplay.
One person said, “Pushing people in a pool never sat right with me. A lot of people can’t swim.”
“Sometimes you gotta know when to stop playing,” another person commented.
Johnson said on WJBF she was “disappointed” with the sentencing and didn’t believe her brother, nor his friend, received justice, “We were expecting, honestly a longer sentence.”
After the sentencing, outside of the courthouse, a confrontation between the family and friends of the two victims and the family and friends of Kirkland popped off.
Police were called in to deescalate the situation and clear out the parking lot.