2 arrested in connection with fatal bridge crash in Port Royal

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Incident reports from day of crash detail harrowing scene — as first responders and civilians work to save family, police interview those involved in wreck

By Mindy Lucas

Two men have been arrested in connection with a three-vehicle fatal collision on the J.E. McTeer bridge that took the lives of four family members and had the Lowcountry reeling in September.

Terry Campbell Jr., 19, and Phillip Roberts, 40, both of Beaufort, were arrested on Thursday, Jan. 7, by officers with the Port Royal Police Department.

Both were charged with five counts each of reckless vehicular homicide, according to a news release issued by the department earlier this week.

The collision, which occurred just after 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, involved three vehicles including a gold Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Campbell, and a gray Ford F-150 driven by Roberts.

Both drivers were found to be traveling at high rates of speed – Campbell at 86 miles per hour and Roberts at 80 miles per hour – according to incident reports made on the date of the collision. The vehicles had been traveling across the bridge toward Lady’s Island when the crash occurred.

A third vehicle, a Dodge Caravan, was driven by the father of the family who perished after the mini-van flipped and went over the side of the bridge and plummeted into the Beaufort River below. He was found to be driving within the speed limit, which is 55 miles per hour on the bridge, reports state, and survived the crash.

Attempts were made to rescue those trapped in the submerged vehicle but Tikia Lashay Doe, 36, and her three young sons, Jashawn Hawkins, 16, Alonzo Houston, 6, and Cameron Perry, 3, all died on the scene. In addition, Doe was eight months pregnant, reports state.

Tragedy unfolds on the bridge

Various traffic and incident reports made on the day of the collision and later released by the Port Royal Police Department detail a harrowing scene:

Racing to the crash site, police, fire and EMS find traffic stopped along both sides of the bridge. Bystanders from stopped cars and other first responders can be seen looking over its side.

Below, a man is standing chest deep in water on the roof of what appears to be a submerged vehicle as people point and yell there are children still trapped inside.

As fire, EMS and civilians in nearby boats scramble to try and save the family, emergency response calls go out to various dive teams and marine rescue teams in the area.

Meanwhile officers on the bridge find two vehicles with damage – a Malibu turned sideways, or perpendicular to traffic, and an F-150 facing back toward Port Royal.

A witness on the scene states she saw the driver of the Malibu “weaving in and out of traffic” prior to crossing the bridge, according to the reports. The “next thing she saw” was a vehicle flipping off the bridge, she tells another officer.

The witness is adamant that Campbell has caused the collision, the report goes on to say, and can be seen pointing and yelling in the car’s direction saying it was “all his fault.”

An officer finds Campbell sitting in the wrecked Malibu, door opened. The car has “heavy front-end damage … specifically on the driver’s side quarter panel and head light” and the bumper is detached, the reports states.

When asked, Campbell tells the officer he is not injured and does not need EMS. The officer takes Campbell’s license, registration and insurance information. The license is a beginner’s permit, the officer notes in his incident report.

Campbell tells the officer he was alone in the car, the report also states.

According to S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, those driving with a regular beginner’s permit from 6 a.m. to midnight, must have a licensed driver who is at least 21 and has at least one year of experience in the front seat of the vehicle. (From midnight to 6 a.m., drivers need a licensed individual who is listed on a “Consent for Minor” form, which gives them permission to drive with the person listed.)

Asked what happened Campbell says, “he didn’t really know,” the report states.

He goes on to say he thought the (Ford F-150) pickup truck was going to come over into the lane he was in and hit him. He tells the officer he “got scared” and hit his brakes to slow down and ended up in the lane behind the Ford F-150.

Another woman, seen talking with Campbell on the bridge, is found to be Campbell’s girlfriend. She was driving another car at the time of the accident and was in front of Campbell, the report states. She says she did not see the crash happen, only the aftermath.

Roberts, who was driving the pickup, is also approached by officers on the scene. He is seen “pacing back and forth” by his truck while on his cell phone and is “emotionally distraught and crying,” an officer observes. He tells the officer he was also involved in the wreck.

While Port Royal’s incident reports note damage to the truck, it does not detail the damage.

They also state, Roberts was driving with a license plate that belonged to another car he owned and that he was waiting on tags from the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

South Carolina state law prohibits drivers from driving or operating a vehicle displaying license plates issued for another vehicle.

When asked, Roberts tells the officer he has back pain and is taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital by EMS.

Meanwhile, below the bridge, as members of the family are pulled from the car and first responders attempt CPR, it becomes evident to those on the scene they are unresponsive. All four are pronounced dead at the scene.

The investigation

While the crash shut down both sides of the bridge for several hours that day, police began attempting to clear the scene and the bridge so that South Carolina’s, Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT), a special investigative unit that operates as its own troop within the state’s highway patrol division, could respond.

MAIT Investigators are trained in collision reconstruction and often respond to severe crashes by mapping, diagramming and taking measurements of the scene.

MAIT performed a complete investigation into the collision and, along with the Port Royal Police Department, determined that “Roberts’ and Campbell’s vehicles were both at fault and collided with each other,” a news release issued by the Port Royal Police Department stated.

The two “spun out of control causing another collision resulting in the victim’s vehicle descending into the waterway, resulting in the death of three juveniles and their pregnant mother,” it stated.

None of the parties involved in the collision were found to be using alcohol or drugs, reports from that day also indicate.

In addition, Campbell was given a field sobriety test at the scene. Roberts was not given a field sobriety test. Asked why Roberts was not given a test, Capt. John Griffith, said in an email he could not speculate as to why Roberts was not tested.

Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach, who also responded to the scene that day, confirmed that speed was a factor in the collision.

On Friday, Campbell and Roberts were arrested and taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center, where they were each released on bonds totaling $500,000, according to Beaufort County court records.

In South Carolina, reckless vehicular homicide is a felony. Those convicted can face up to 10 years in prison for each count or $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, or both and must have their driver’s license revoked for five years.

A family remembered

After the fatal crash in the fall, many in the community and at the children’s schools were stunned and saddened at the loss of the Burton family.

Jashawn was a 10th-grader at Battery Creek High School and Alonzo was in first grade at Robert Smalls International Academy.

“We’ve been deeply saddened to hear about the passing of two of our students, Jashawn Hawkins and Alonzo Houston,” a statement from the school district said in September. “The principals and staffs at Battery Creek High and Robert Smalls International Academy will miss them greatly, and their family continues to be in our thoughts and prayers.”

Another sibling, Ziara Jackson, was visiting her grandmother at the time of the crash, according to a Go Fund Me account established for her.

Emails included in the incident reports show the law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick is representing the estate of Alonzo Houston.

Above: Phillip Roberts and Terry Campbell Jr.

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