SC family sues OnStar in connection to mother’s death

A Marion County family has filed a lawsuit against OnStar, claiming the company refused to provide critical information that could have helped save their mother
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2023 at 6:28 PM EDT
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MARION COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A Marion County family has filed a lawsuit against OnStar, claiming the company refused to provide critical information that could have helped save the life of their mother.

“I didn’t get the chance to tell her I love her. That got taken away from me,” Harold Elvington says.

He speaks of his mother, Mary Ann Elvington, who the family called a loving mother, a caring teacher and a beloved friend.

“She said, ‘I will never leave you.’ She said, ‘As long as you have my memory, I will never leave you,’” Margot Elvington, daughter, says.

Margot, Hue and Harold Elvington, her three children, say their mother was the heartbeat of their home when they were growing up. From teaching the children’s ministry at church to caring for neighbors, loved ones and friends without a second thought, her children say the lessons she taught them are ingrained in them, and she taught those same values to her grandchildren.

But on March 28, 2021, Elvington was inside her home in Nichols, South Carolina, when 30-year-old Dominique Brand forced his way inside. The Department of Justice said Brand then forced Elvington to drive him from her house to Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina, and back to South Carolina, as he sat in the backseat with a shotgun.

Elvington’s car was being tracked by OnStar, according to attorney Richard Gergel of the Pierce Sloan Law Firm, who is representing the Elvington family in their suit against the company.

“Situations like this, emergency situations, this is exactly why people get OnStar in the first place,” Gergel says.

OnStar provides a tracking service in cars so drivers can feel a sense of safety with advisors ready to help 24/7 in emergencies, their advertisements claim.

But in an emergency like finding Harold Elvington’s missing mother, Gergel says OnStar refused to share where the car was despite his pleas.

The family says they’re angry.

“It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get any easier,” Elvington said.

After the family said OnStar refused to help them locate the car, they got the police involved. However, Harold Elvington says OnStar refused to give the stolen car’s location to them either, at least at first.

The family’s lawsuit alleges negligence and gross negligence against OnStar, claiming their mother’s life could have been saved if OnStar had given police the location of the car sooner.

“Time was of the essence, and one of the reasons that the family and law enforcement couldn’t find Ms. Elvington more quickly is that OnStar refused to provide her location immediately when it was requested by the family and by the police,” Gergel says.

“I never got to say, ‘Mama, I love you,’ because we were in a situation. We were trying to work through that, and I never thought that’d be the last time I talked to her,” Elvington says.

Law enforcement officials for the City of Charleston, which are not associated with the case, say it’s not uncommon for them to work with OnStar.

Charleston Police Sgt. Will Dilahey, the supervisor of the Auto Theft Unit of Central Investigations, says they encourage people to have tracking services like OnStar and Apple Air tags just in case something happens.

“Typically the victim contacts OnStar and lets them know that their vehicle was stolen. Then they contact law enforcement, and we work with OnStar as far as locating their vehicle,” Dilahey says. “OnStar will speak directly to our dispatch and then dispatch will speak to the officers over the radio as to the updated location of where that vehicle is.”

In Elvington’s case, the lawsuit claims OnStar placed a three-way call to the vehicle informing Mary Ann Elvington that her family and law enforcement were trying to locate her. Her son Harold says she was inside the car but claims she didn’t know where she was. The Elvingtons believe as soon as OnStar contacted their mom, Brand pulled over, forced Elvington into the backseat, and drove them away from Elvington’s home.

“When Mama was in the car with the guy, I said, ‘I can’t believe he didn’t get out,’” Elvington says.

An incident report from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office shows authorities arrived on the scene later that day at the Sunny Mart in Marion County where Elvington was believed to have last been seen. Deputies called OnStar to locate the car and but said, “after several minutes OnStar refused to give the location.”

After speaking to a supervisor, deputies finally received the location they needed. But by then, it was too late. They found Elvington’s body behind an abandoned grocery store. She had been shot once in the back of her head.

“She said when I’m dead and gone I want you, Harold, Margot to keep that family strong,” Hue Elvington says. “She was all about family, and she just wanted a tight-knit family. She didn’t want it to break apart.”

The family says if OnStar had acted sooner, Elvington might still be here today.

The Marion County Sherriff’s Office would not comment on the case because of pending litigation.

OnStar also refused to comment because of the ongoing case. In a court filing, however, the company denies that their conduct was negligent in any way. OnStar also denies that they failed to provide the location of Elvington’s vehicle to law enforcement.

“Nothing is going to bring Ms. Elvington back, but the Elvington family wants justice, and they want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Gergel says.

The family’s lawyer says the case is still underway.

Brand was convicted of a number of charges, including kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death and using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime in a manner constituting murder. He was recently sentenced to two life sentences plus 10 years in federal prison in connection to Elvington’s death.