Wrongful death lawsuit filed in July Don Holt Crash

Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:01 AM EDT
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BERKELEY COUNTY (WCSC) - The estate of the tow truck driver killed in a July 1 crash on the Don Holt Bridge filed a wrongful death suit against two drivers and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

The funeral for the tow truck driver who died following a crash on the Don Holt Bridge is...
The funeral for the tow truck driver who died following a crash on the Don Holt Bridge is Saturday.(Provided)

Court documents state that the estate of Will Ellis, the tow truck driver who died in the crash, is suing Dale Phillips II, of Tennessee; Peter Katzburg, of Charleston; and the SCDOT in the crash that also seriously injured Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Costanzo.

The suit alleges that Katzburg’s vehicle became disabled on the westbound right-hand shoulder of the Don Holt Bridge. Ellis pulled behind Katzburg in a red rollback tow truck with warning lights on along the right shoulder, and Costanzo, a short time later, pulled directly behind Ellis’s tow truck with his blue lights activated to assist.

Court documents allege Phillips, the driver of a Ford F-350, was towing a trailer in the right-hand lane when the truck slammed into the rear of the deputy's vehicle, pushing it into the deputy and Ellis. The impact seriously injured both men and caused Ellis to fall over the short concrete wall on the right-most edge of the bridge.

The suit states Ellis "suffered severe injury from the collision on the bridge and also lost his life as a result of the fall from the bridge into the water below."

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office said one of its deputies was seriously injured Wednesday...
The Charleston County Sheriff's Office said one of its deputies was seriously injured Wednesday morning in a crash on the Don Holt Bridge.(Kristen Landress)

The lawsuit claims Katzburg was negligent in failing to exercise due care. It claims Phillips was negligent, failed to exercise due care, failed to keep a proper lookout, was driving distracted, following too closely and violating the state’s Motor Vehicle Act. It also claims he failed to comply with the law requiring significant reduction in speed and lane change to the land not adjacent of the emergency vehicle and was driving too fast for conditions.

The suit states the SCDOT was negligent by “failing to engineer a forgiving quality to the shoulder of the roadway, failing to engineer signage to warn approaching traffic of stopped cars on the crest of the bridge, failing to engineer a side wall tall enough or with railings to prevent inadvertent or disabled pedestrians from falling over the side, and failing to engineer a fence or net to allow forgiveness to the inevitable and foreseeable circumstance of pedestrians who are forced over the short concrete side wall.”

The suit seeks actual, general and punitive damages and seeks a jury trial.

Ellis’s body was recovered the next day.

Costanzo, 49, is continuing his recovery at an Atlanta hospital.

Deputy Mike Costanzo faces "a long road to recovery," the Charleston County Sheriff's Office...
Deputy Mike Costanzo faces "a long road to recovery," the Charleston County Sheriff's Office says.(Charleston County Sheriff's Office)

The Shepherd Center in Atlanta confirmed last month that Costanzo was transferred to its facility for brain injury rehabilitation. He suffered the brain injury, as well as a broken arm, clavicle and back, a shattered femur and a crushed ankle in the crash.

He was admitted to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, where he will begin therapy under the guidance of a full team of medical and rehabilitation specialists, Shepherd spokesperson Jane Sanders said.

The Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury.

Costanzo’s family said they are grateful “for the excellent care he received while at MUSC Health University Medical Center.”

Medical and rehabilitation teams typically consist of an attending physician, nurses, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a speech language pathologist, a recreation therapist, a case manager, a peer support specialist, a dietitian, a psychologist and a chaplain.

Those who want to send a card of encouragement may mail it to Michael Costanzo, c/o Shepherd Center, 2020 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta GA 30309.

For those who want to donate online to help support the medical-related expenses for Officer Costanzo, a Serve and Connect account is available.

Costanzo worked with the sheriff’s office from 1994 to 2006, and returned to the agency in April of 2017.

Deputies say he has served as a much-loved school resource officer at Sullivan’s Island Elementary during the school year and was assigned to the Marine Patrol Unit this summer.

He recently told his colleagues he plans to walk back in the doors of the sheriff’s office in October.

Since the day of the crash, the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash.

MAIT investigates complicated vehicle crashes, using state-of-the-art technology and analysis to reconstruct the scene, the agency’s website states.

There has been no word on whether charges are likely to be filed because the crash has remained under investigation.

Cpl. Matt Southern said last month there was no timetable on when the investigation would be complete because each accident was different.

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