February 11, 2014

Rock Hill woman charged in traffic death had previous DUI

Cassie Cunningham, the Rock Hill woman who troopers say was drunk when she rear-ended another woman’s car and killed her Monday afternoon, also was charged with drinking and driving in 2008, state records show.

The Rock Hill woman who troopers say was drunk when she rear-ended another woman’s car, causing her death Monday afternoon, also was charged with drinking and driving in 2008, state records show.

Cassie Cunningham, 36, enrolled in an alcohol and drug safety program and paid $100 for a provisional driver’s license that only allowed her to drive a car in South Carolina for about six months, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles records obtained by The Herald on Tuesday.

The limitations came after deputies in 2008 accused her of swerving across lanes on Mount Holly Road, failing a field sobriety test and registering a 0.11 percent blood alcohol content, a York County Sheriff’s report states. The legal limit to drive in South Carolina is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content.

On Monday, troopers say, Cunningham rammed her GMC Yukon into the back of a Kia Rio driven by Kristen Knight, 22, of Rock Hill, as she waited at a stoplight while traveling east on Celanese Road. The impact shoved Knight’s vehicle into the path of an oncoming Toyota Camry.

Cunningham’s blood alcohol content on Monday was 0.20 percent, Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Bill Rhyne said Tuesday – more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

It’s unclear if Cunningham had any alcohol in the car, Rhyne said.

The crash shut down several lanes of Celanese Road during the peak of rush hour. Neither Cunningham nor the driver of the Camry, a Fort Mill woman, were injured.

Knight was taken to Piedmont Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead in the emergency room, said York County Coroner Sabrina Gast. She lived in Yesebehena Village on the Catawba Indian Reservation outside Rock Hill.

Cunningham remains jailed at the York County Detention Center without bond. She is charged with felony driving under the influence in which death results, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and $25,100 fine.

Her mother declined to comment on Tuesday, referring all comments to David Cook, a Lancaster lawyer the family hired to defend Cunningham.

Cook, who visited Cunningham late Monday night at the York County Detention Center, said the mother of two girls, ages 8 and 10, was leaving home when she ran into the back of Knight’s car.

“She was overwhelmed with grief,” Cook said. “The only thing on her mind was the victim’s family. She was overwhelmed with grief to the point she almost couldn’t communicate at times. She was just crying.”

Cook said he will ask a judge to reconsider setting bond for her.

Monday wasn’t the first time Cunningham rear-ended a driver on Celanese Road. In May, Cunningham ran into the back of a Minnesota man’s 2009 Ford with her Yukon while they were waiting at a stoplight at the intersection of Celanese and India Hook roads, records show.

The light was still red when Cunningham hit the gas, hitting the man’s car. No serious injuries were reported.

In May 2008, deputies went to her home in Catawba after a man called reporting that he had followed her home after noticing that she veered across the double yellow line on Mount Holly Road and appeared intoxicated, according to a York County sheriff’s report.

Cunningham, whose legal name then was Cassie Huff, told authorities she had been drinking and had just returned home. She failed a field sobriety test, deputies reported, and was unable to recite the alphabet or give her birth date, slurring her letters and numbers as she spoke. She was charged with driving under the influence and registered a 0.11 percent blood alcohol content.

Two months later, her license was suspended. She enrolled in an alcohol drug safety action program, through which she earned a provisional driver’s license. Her suspension ended in January 2009 after she successfully finished the program and paid a $100 reinstatement fee, records show.

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