Docs: Charleston deputy charged in crash ‘struggled’ behind wheel in training
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated that Pelletier failed to stop at two stop signs during the last phase of her training. This article has been corrected to state she was only noted not to have stopped for one stop sign. Additional information has also been added to provide more context.
CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Daily training logs reveal field supervisors noted difficulties a former Charleston County deputy who was involved in a crash that killed a Colleton County woman and her two daughters was having with driving while she was training for the job.
Emily Pelletier was just six months out from the 12-week field training program when she was involved in a Mother’s Day wreck on Savannah Highway while she was responding to help the driver of a disabled vehicle.
Stephanie Dantzler and her daughters, Shanice and Miranda Dantzler-Williams, were all killed. At the time, they were headed back home after a celebration for Miranda’s recent graduation from Claflin University just two days prior.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said in June there was “no doubt” that Pelletier contributed to the crash, and that she ran a stop sign on New Road and was traveling 73 miles per hour before colliding with the other car.
Investigators said her blue lights and sirens were not on at the time.
The 24-year-old told internal affairs she was in an unfamiliar area, it was dark, and the driver she was trying to reach was afraid and wondering where she was. She was immediately placed on administrative leave and was formally fired and charged a month later.
For the victims’ family, healing has been difficult to come by over these past eight months. Their pain is as fresh as the night they lost three of their own.
This Christmas was the first without them.
“These some always the best months of the year. I used to start the first of December, decorating the whole place. This year I didn’t take anything out. Nothing at all,” Betty Simmons, the family matriarch, said.
Instead, Simmons chose to decorate the crash site on Highway 17, which now has a sign commemorating the victims, and their final resting place.
Randall Williams, the girls’ father, was invited to come out that night, but instead chose to sit out on the celebrations.
“Sometimes I wish I was,” he said.
“Everything just stopped like everything got numb like I’m hoping I’m dreaming,” Darrin Dantzler said, recalling the night he received the news.
“It still feels like yesterday. The Bible says he’ll never put no more you than you can bear, that’s a hard pill,” aunt Emily Williams said. “That family is hurting, brothers are hurting, the whole family is hurting. This was a careless accident, that should of never happened”
Their gravesites sit side by side, as they were in life. Family members describe the three as inseparable.
Ex-deputy’s training history reflects weaknesses tied to deadly crash
Hundreds of daily logs and other training records for Pelletier as she was observed from September to late November 2021 reveal that out of the 42 days she was observed, there are multiple instances in which field training instructors noted her difficulty multitasking and recalling geography.
At the beginning of her training, it’s noted that she has difficulty multitasking at least three times. This includes juggling radio transmissions, traffic stops, lights and driving.
On the third day, the instructor states “this is a struggle for most LEO’s and will hopefully be a growing pain that goes away with some time.”
On Oct. 28, Master Deputy Chris Quinn notes, “Pelletier continues to struggle tremendously with geography… nearly six weeks into phase one she had no idea where she is at or landmarks.”
It is recorded at least five other times that she has issues with recalling geography.
In the last phase of her training, she is noted to have failed to stop at a stop sign in Woodside.
Pelletier at the time was running a Code 3, demoted to a Code 2, and according to her instructor “failed to clear the intersection” which is required by Sheriff’s Office policy.
Her field training instructor Master Deputy Chris Quinn writes, “[d]eputy Pelletier and I spoke about the incident and how to break tunnel vision to eliminate simple mistakes that can have greater consequences while conducting her job.”
Two weeks later, is told by the instructor quote “we could have been involved in a head-on collision” while responding to a car vs. pedestrian call, a Code 3.
She is noted to have driven around two cars on Lincolnville road, a two-lane highway, passing Salkahatchie Steet, a notorious intersection for crashes due to drivers not stopping at the stop sign.
Her instructor tells her to “just slow down and wait for others to move out of the way where she could safely proceed around.”
Her driving that day is rated as a “3″ or acceptable and a week later her instructor recommends she complete her training.
Quinn’s recommendation writes, “Deputy Pelletier uses good judgment but needs to be more assertive... needs to continue to work on learning her districts. Deputy Pelletier struggles with retaining information from day to day. I feel confident that Deputy Pelletier can make these improvements and become a valued member of CCSO.”
“It makes it hard on us to even think about something like that,” Eric Dantzler said. “It’s nothing like they didn’t know about it,” he added.
“She shouldn’t be on the road. And the way I see it, she can use her car as a weapon. Could have been anybody,” Simmons said.
A sheriff’s office spokesman denied the request for an on-camera interview or to answer specifics in the case, citing pending litigation.
Sheriff Kristin Graziano released the following statement:
Like other agencies, we recruit people who have no experience in law enforcement. After successful completion of the application process, they go through in-house training and the criminal justice academy. Recruits then apply their knowledge during at least 12 weeks of real-world field training in which our instructors are tasked with criticizing their performance each day they set foot on the street. We expect to see improvement in that performance throughout training. If they need extra time to make improvement, we will work with them. The recruits who do not show the necessary improvement will not make it through training.
This process is extensive and difficult for the recruits. We stand by that process, and we stand by the men and women who serve as field instructors. Law enforcement is a difficult job with immense responsibility, and field training helps ensure recruits are ready for that responsibility. There will always be a human element to this career, but we will continue to improve, continue to train and continue to strive to be the best at what we do.
Driving is ‘most dangerous activity’ for law enforcement
“Sometimes officers drive too fast. Sometimes officers drive in situations that are too risky,” University of South Carolina Criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert said.
Particularly, he says intersections are the most dangerous and are like “playing Russian roulette.”
“You see fire trucks and you see ambulances for the most part really slowing down at intersections because they’re so dangerous. Yet you sometimes you see police just go through them.. like they’re just the bat out of hell,” he said.
Alpert has worked with agencies to help implement crash prevention programs.
In one study with the Las Vegas police department, crash rates decreased by 14%.
“The whole point of law enforcement is to save lives and if you slow down a little bit you’re not putting at risk where you’re going very much and you’re certainly saving lives along the way,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office reports it has recently added additional high-speed driving training each year, but has not indicated any changes to be made after this incident.
The Dantzler-Williams family has expressed wanting significant changes to the department’s training.
“If you still got officers in line doing the same thing, nothing’s changed,” Emily Williams said.
Criminal case still pending
Pelletier’s criminal case is still pending in the court system. She is charged with three counts of reckless homicide. Each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Most recently, the case was “bound over,” a procedural event where a judge finds there is enough evidence to move forward.
Her bond was also modified days before Christmas, her lawyer says, to allow for her to travel for the holidays.
Attorneys representing the Dantzler and Williams families have released a joint statement on the crash:
Hear from the victims’ family in this exclusive interview as they share their thoughts on the tragedy and how they’re dealing with the overwhelming emotions this holiday season.
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