A new report says South Carolina has the 10 highest number of drunk driving related deaths in the country, according to AutoInsuranceEZ.com. The savings referral service analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that spanned from 2014 to 2018.
The report found that 33 percent of traffic deaths in the Palmetto State involve an impaired driver.
Ashley Avant’s death wouldn’t be included in those statistics because her vehicle was hit from behind by a suspected drunk driver on Oct. 19, 2019 in Williamsburg County.
The 30-year old mother of three was killed just feet from her parents’ driveway on Seaboard Road. Her 9-year old daughter was also hurt.
Benjamin Lockliear faces felony charges for driving under the influence and taking off after the crash.
On Wednesday, nearly five months after the crash, Lockliear was supposed to appear before a judge for a preliminary hearing on the case. However, the Solicitor’s Office said the court date was postponed because prosecutors were still waiting on a report from the South Carolina Highway Patrol related to the investigation, according to Avant’s family.
Meanwhile, Avant’s husband has filed a civil complaint against Lockliear for claims of gross negligence, and wrongful death.
Kenneth Avant has asked a for a judgement of $10 million to cover the costs of medical and funeral expenses among other things, according to court documents.
Williamsburg County court records show Lockliear has faced alcohol related charges before. In 2001, he paid a fine of $75 dollars for an open container in his vehicle. Then three years later, he paid a $232 fine for an open container in a car.
In Georgetown County, he faced charges ranging from open containers to boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
He also was charged with a second offense for driving under the influence in 2013, according to court records.
Avant’s husband has also filed for a temporary restraining order to protect assets Lockliear received from a 2018 workers compensation claim against Saulsbury Industries, Inc.
“Plaintiff has a meritous case and will likely prevail at the final hearing on the merits due to the clear liability of the Defendant and the grossly inadequate insurance coverage as well as lack of any other real or personal property available to a pay a judgement that Plaintiffs value in excess of $10 million,” court documents said. “The damage caused by allowing the Defendant to transfer any assets prior to the Plaintiff having an opportunity to file and obtain a warrant of attachment…would cause irreparable harm.”
However, no amount of money could ever heal the hole left in the hearts of Ashley’s family. Her death has left them struggling to figure out a life without her in it.
“It’s a nightmare that won’t go away,” Lee Walters said.
“Everyday we pretty much wake up to a new hell,” Patricia Walters said. “We have to live every day without our daughter. Our grandchildren have to live without their mom...I have to sit there without her over a bad decision that somebody else made.”
Ashley’s parents are calling on lawmakers to stiffen penalties against impaired drivers. Patricia is particularly worried about the repeat offenders who never seem to serve any serious jail time until they kill someone.
“My message to people all over the world, if you’re responsible enough to take a drink, be responsible enough to either drink at home or have a designated driver or have something set up,” Patricia said.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Avant would like to see Georgetown and Williamsburg counties address what he sees as a lack of safe options for people to use to get home after consuming alcohol. Few, if any, ride sharing services provide rides in the two rural counties.
“It’s a small town. It’s not that hard to help each other and make better adjustments and that’s what we’re doing,” Kenneth said. “There’s some things we can be doing and it’s going to bring awareness to it.”
He clings to the positive actions that could come from his wife’s tragic death.
“She just had a good spirit to her, just a loving person,” Kenneth said. “She was my angel.”
Ashley’s death has taken an emotional toll on the entire family, especially her daughter who was a passenger in the car. The 9-year old now lives with the memory of her mother dying in front of her.
“It’s one day at a time, one step at a time,” Lee said. “We don’t ever know whether we’re going to wake up and break down or we’re going to wake up and walk like it’s a normal day. Whatever normal is anymore. We really don’t know what to do. We don’t even know who we are anymore.”
Using the hastag, #MADDforAshley, her family continues to share Ashley’s story to try to reach a lofty goal, no more victims.
“I’m not just crying out for people to stop drinking for my grandchildren or for my son-in-law or for my husband or myself, but for your family,” Patricia said. “Even if you don’t get killed…if you deliberately get in a car drunk and drive, can you live with yourself knowing you killed somebody?”
The Williamsburg County Solicitor’s Office has not yet responded to requests for comment on the case.