COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Richland County deputy was blamed for causing a traffic accident that sent a Hopkins woman and her teenage grandson to the hospital, according to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
"Mostly my lower back, some chest pain, my head hurts," said Michael Morales, 15.
Troopers said the wreck happened around 12:30pm Sunday on Highway 378, about 14 miles east of Columbia. Morales was driving a 1998 Suzuki SUV east, giving a ride home from church to his grandmother, Lola Morales, 83.
Troopers said Deputy Calvin Hill was following Morales in a department-owned marked 2010 Ford Crown Victoria and was driving too fast for conditions. When Morales slowed down to turn left off of 378, Hill was unable to stop and rear-ended the SUV.
The impact caused the SUV to overturn into the median -- Morales said it flipped three times. "I just kinda lost it," Morales described. "Couldn't think of anything but getting back to the church and to my parents. It was really the most traumatic experience of my life."
"My son came screaming and crying, running into the church and he was covered in blood," described Morales' father, who is also named Michael.
But it wasn't Morales who needed help most -- it was his grandmother. "Her pulse was low," described Morales' father. "She was in and out of consciousness and at first, her eyes were rolled back in her head and that's when I thought the worse, then," said Morales' father.
After some help from passersby, they got Lola Morales to the hospital. "I didn't want anything to happen to my grandma, especially me being the cause of it," said Morales. "Really, it was just so scary."
"He didn't know it was a deputy who had caused the accident," said Morales' father. "He thought somehow it was his fault. As a father, that has just ripped my heart apart." Troopers say the wreck was not Morales' fault at all.
"Here's my son thinking he had killed his grandma, then I find out the person who caused this was a Richland County deputy," said Morales' father. "I saw the deputy there. I thought he was there to investigate what happened. He just mumbled, I couldn't really understand him. He said, 'It was my car. Your car was sticking out.'"
Hill was charged with driving too fast for conditions. Morales' father says despite the chaos, he took pictures to document it all. He says he figures he's got quite a legal battle in front of him, but that is not the biggest battle on his mind. "I'm scared to death she won't survive," he said.
The sheriff's department said Hill is still employed, and they are doing an internal investigation. Because Hill was charged with driving too fast for conditions, we asked if deputies are allowed to speed. Department guidelines say "when responding to emergency calls, the law permits police vehicles to disregard traffic controls and signals; however, the officer must exercise reasonable due care in the operation of the emergency vehicle." Hill was not responding to an emergency call when this happened -- the department says he was just patrolling.
Troopers said all three of the people involved were wearing seatbelts.