Berkeley Co. deputy at the center of two wrongful death lawsuits following deadly crashes

Berkeley Co. deputy at the center of two wrongful death lawsuits following deadly crashes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is facing at least two lawsuits following deadly crashes involving the same deputy.

The families of the men killed say the law enforcement agency isn’t doing enough to train, supervise and discipline those involved, and they are seeking answers about why these crashes happened, according to court documents.

Internal investigative files from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office detail the crash on Highway 52 in St. Stephen.

It happened on Feb. 9, 2018, just after 9:30 p.m.

In audio records of radio traffic from that night, Deputy Gary Wasielewski is heard telling dispatchers, “I was just involved in an auto pedestrian.”

The pedestrian, Robert Collins, died.

“Deputy Wasielewski drove left of his lane into the paved median to see past the vehicle in front of him,” investigative documents said.

In his own words, it was then that Deputy Wasielewski “made impact with an unknown black object,” which turned out to be a man.

BCSO records say Wasielewski had his emergency lights on solid due to the weather, but his sirens and flashing lights were not activated as he responded to assist another agency on a call.

His vehicle was not equipped with an in-car camera, and Wasielewski did not activate his body worn camera.

An investigation from the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s MAIT team estimated Wasielewski’s speed at impact was between 58 and 71 miles per hour. The posted speed limit in the area is 55 mph.

The coroner’s report found that Collins’ had THC and cocaine in his system at the time of the collision, and the lawsuit related to his death said he was walking home after having dinner at his mother’s house.

“Deputy Wasielewski’s decision to drive into the median in order to peer around a vehicle and/or attempt to pass a vehicle created an unreasonable and unnecessary risk to public safety,” court documents said. “Deputy Wasielewski was not operating his vehicle within the authorized emergency vehicle provisions of South Carolina Code section 56-5-760 that afford certain privileges to emergency vehicles in certain situations to disregard certain traffic laws subject to certain exceptions.”

However, BCSO’s internal affairs investigation found Wasielewski did not violate any Berkeley County Policies or state law that was related to the cause of the accident.

Wasielewski did admit he was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash though, claiming it kept getting caught on his body-worn camera.

Wasielewski’s supervisor signed off on a report which stated unsafe conditions related to inadequate illumination, limited visibility, and adverse weather caused the collision.

“When the police don’t follow the safety rules that we all have to follow and that they are being paid to enforce to protect us all, it causes a great potential for harm in the community,” said Mark Bringardner, the attorney representing Collins’ family. “Particularly when they are driving at speeds above the speed limit or they don’t have their lights and sirens on when they are supposed to and they’re taking advantage of the privileges that are afforded to law enforcement at times when it’s not appropriate, they can seriously injure or kill someone.”

BCSO reports place blame on the weather and Collins for the collision, stating “pedestrians should be removed from the roadway” and “pedestrian to wear reflective clothing rather than dark clothing” as preventive measures.

Documents show Wasielewski was placed on paid administrative leave following the deadly collision. However, he was also promoted to corporal just days following Collins’ death, and remains a corporal despite another deadly crash he was involved in just months later.

“The hope would be that at the conclusion of the lawsuit or even before that, they begin to implement policies and procedures and train their officers that this is not acceptable behavior,” Bringardner said.

In May 2018, Wasielewski was a passenger in a patrol car that hit and killed Roger Little, Sr.

Court documents say Wasielewski and the deputy who was driving were responding to a burglary call and traveling at a high rate of speed to get there, going approximately 75 mph in a 45 mph zone.

The lawsuit claims, as the deputies approached the intersection of College Park Road and Miami Street near Goose Creek, they accelerated through the intersection without activating their blue lights and continued through with speed despite a red light.

Little’s family says the deputies’ wanton disregard for the red light and negligence to operate their patrol vehicle in a safe manner led to their loved one’s death.

“This isn’t just a one-off event. It’s actually something that’s systemic and is a result of a lack of either the proper training and/or the proper oversight and internal controls to help prevent these types of deaths from occurring,” Bringardner said.

Deputy Wasielewski is not named as a defendant in either lawsuit associated with those deadly collisions. Instead, the families of the men who died are going after the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office. They claim the law enforcement agency was negligent in training, supervising and disciplining those involved.

The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office says it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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