Herald newspaper carrier helps police nab attempted murder, kidnapping suspect

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comDecember 26, 2013 

In the 12 years she’s delivered newspapers to homes along the rural roads of York County, Donna Byard has never been in an accident, aside from when her vehicle hydroplaned and wound up in a ditch some years back.

Now, Byard, 57, who started as a carrier for The Herald and The Charlotte Observer to help pay the bills while caring for her ailing mother, has bruised ribs and a totaled car.

But her injuries are worth it, she says.

“I caught a criminal!” Byard said through giggles Thursday morning. “I caught a felon!”

At about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, Byard – who for more than a decade has driven 70 miles seven days a week, faithfully wrapping papers and putting them in mailboxes – prepared to make a left turn onto Armstrong Ford Road between Rock Hill and McConnells. She checked her rear-view mirror. Nothing was behind her.

As Byard made her turn, a 2000 Honda – allegedly stolen – hit her vehicle, caving in her driver’s side door, knocking her backward, deploying the airbags and ripping off one of the front wheels.

Unable to get out of her own car because of a busted door, Byard called police. Within five minutes, York County Sheriff’s deputies, state Highway Patrol troopers, fire personnel and paramedics were on scene and helped her out.

Troopers arrested the other driver, Clinton Lamont Mason, 35, of Charlotte, who walked away from the accident with a broken arm that required treatment at Piedmont Medical Center, said Lance Cpl. Tony Keller with the Highway Patrol. Mason was charged with driving under the influence, driving without a license and improperly passing. Keller said Mason tried passing Byard as she turned but collided with her instead.

“It was quite a shock,” Byard said. “I’ve never been hit before. He didn’t seem like he was really drunk. He was a very big guy.”

Byard learned that Mason ran into her while evading police after he allegedly committed crimes more than seven miles away.

About 15 minutes earlier, police were sent to Scott’s Food Store at the intersection of Cherry Road and Heckle Boulevard when a woman reported that Mason attacked her and then stole her car, said Rock Hill Police Capt. Brent Allmon.

The details of the woman’s relationship with Mason were not available Thursday, but Allmon said the woman claimed Mason forced her inside her car. As they drove, an argument ensued before the woman stopped at Scott’s Food Store and ran inside to call police. That’s when Mason drove off with her Honda, police say.

Mason’s criminal record includes convictions for speeding, driving without a license, possession of drug paraphernalia, failure to comply with direction of police, careless operation of a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and giving false information to police, according to records with the State Law Enforcement Division. He also served time for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and kidnapping in 2009.

On Thursday, Rock Hill Police issued warrants on Mason that will charge him with attempted murder, kidnapping and grand larceny, Allmon said. Thursday evening, Mason was awaiting a bond hearing at the York County Detention Center – his arm in a splint.

Meanwhile, Byard, bruised ribs and all, finished her paper route with help from a friend.

“It’s a little hard to move around,” she said.

Still, she managed to move and bundle newspapers, even when her friend drove over speed bumps. She says she’s tough – so tough that a few years ago, she waited three days to go to the doctor after breaking her arm.

But her 2009 Kia Rio, a “dependable” car she just affixed with a new alternator and a full tank of gas, wasn’t as tough. It’s a total loss, she said.

She did not despair. Neither did some of her customers who went without their morning newspaper.

When Mason hit Byard’s car, some newspapers flew off her dashboard and out the window. She wrote those customers notes explaining what happened. Some she met in their driveways and by their mailboxes. Their concern was for her safety.

“I’ve been dealing with most of my customers a long time,” she said.

She first got the job because it provided a schedule that allowed her to care for her sick mother during the day and work while her mom was asleep. Her mother passed away several years ago. Despite Byard’s close encounter with an attempted murder suspect, she has no immediate plans to quit. She’ll be back on her route Friday morning.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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