Berkeley County family receives settlement after deputy hits, kills pedestrian
ST. STEPHEN, S.C. (WCSC) - It has been a heartbreaking four-and-a-half years for one Berkeley County mom after her son was hit and killed by a sheriff’s deputy while he walked down the road.
While the state’s insurance company just settled with her for $350,000 after a years-long lawsuit, the deputy involved in the accident was never charged and was later promoted. The mother says all these years later, she’s still left searching for closure and justice.
“I always got my first text every morning: ‘Good morning, mom. I love you. Have a good day.’ And I never got it, and I realized I will never get another text like this from my son,” Peggy Huff says.
In February of 2018, just minutes after Huff’s son, Robert “Rocky” Collins, left her house in St. Stephen after dinner, he was hit by a car on Highway 52 while walking home.
“I stood there until 2:30 in the morning until they finally covered my son up and picked him up off the street and took him away,” she says. “I never got to say bye to my son.”
It was former Berkeley County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Wasielewski who hit and killed Collins, state troopers say.
“I was just involved in an auto-pedestrian,” Wasielewski says in audio records of radio traffic from that night as he’s telling dispatchers about the crash.
Documents obtained from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office show he says he drove into the median on his left side to see past two vehicles driving in front of him when he hit Collins.
An investigation from the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s accident reconstruction 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.
Documents show Wasielewski says he had his emergency lights on solid because of the weather, but his sirens and flashing lights were not on.
“I looked and saw a police car sitting there, and it had my son’s body print on the hood and the windshield and the top of the car,” Huff says.
Just days after the crash, as Huff was planning a funeral and burying her son, Wasielewski’s personnel file shows he was promoted. Just three months after that, he was involved in a second deadly crash while on duty, this time as a passenger while training another deputy.
Court records show Wasielewski never faced charges in either crash. Documents from the sheriff’s office state they found that limited visibility, adverse weather and other conditions caused the collision in Collins’ case.
“If it was anybody else that done what he did, they would have went straight to jail and he got by with it,” Huff says.
Eight months after Collins’ death, attorney Mark Bringardner filed a lawsuit on behalf of Collins’ family against the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office. It alleges Wasielewski was negligent and reckless and that he violated South Carolina law.
The suit claims Wasielewski’s decision to peer around the cars in front of him was an unreasonable and unnecessary risk to public safety.
“The entire purpose of the government, particularly law enforcement, is to protect the public, protect our rights,” Bringardner says. “And when someone is harmed or killed due to negligent or reckless behavior, the government should be held accountable to the same extent that everyone else is.”
As Collins’ family has been grappling with their grief, Bringardner says he’s been battling over the case.
“To have this saga drag on and on and on for years took a toll on them and also prevented any sort of closure for them to have someone be accountable for the loss of their family member,” he says. “And in most situations, if it was a private individual or a company—anything but a governmental entity—the case would’ve been resolved relatively quickly and for more money.”
Years after Collins was hit in the rain, the insurance company for the sheriff’s office settled the case for $350,000, a payment the family just received, though about $200,000 went to legal and attorneys’ fees.
But Huff says nothing will bring her son back and what she’s still yearning for and searching for is justice.
“As long as they have police officers to do that and get out with it is going to continue,” she says. “Because it’s not right if somebody has to take your child away from you like that and you never get an ‘I apologize, I’m sorry.’ Nothing and it’s just like okay, we’re going to offer you this little piddly bit of cash here. It’s like a slap in the face.”
Internal documents show Wasielewski left the sheriff’s office in January of this year. His resignation letter says he was changing careers because of the changing times and the direction law enforcement is going.
Huff, meanwhile, says she spends her mornings sitting on her back porch, thinking about the son she lost, whose grave now sits on her property.
“It’s still heartbreaking,” she says. “But it does make me feel just a little bit more at ease because he’s at home with me. But it’s still one of the hardest things anybody will ever have to go through.”
Neither the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office nor their attorney have responded to requests for comment.
In a phone call with Wasielewski, he says what happened in 2018 was a freak accident and that he never saw Collins before the crash. He says he is sorry for what happened and feels bad for the family.
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