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‘My heart aches’: Chester driver who killed 3 in 2016 DUI wreck apologizes in court

A Chester man with three past DUI convictions was sentenced to 16 years in prison Thursday, after pleading no contest to driving drunk in a 2016 crash that killed three people.

The accused man, Joseph DeWayne Knox, 44, was the only survivor in the Oct. 23, 2016 crash.

Knox had a blood alcohol content of .274 at the time of the crash, and also had cocaine, marijuana and Xanax in his system, prosecutors said Thursday in court .

The alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit in South Carolina, prosecutors said.

Sir Lawrence Darby, 53, of Rock Hill, was one of the three who died in the crash. Darby was going home from a disc jockey event at a Chester County church when the truck he was in was hit by Knox’s vehicle on Saluda Road outside the Chester city limits, police and prosecutors said.

Darby, nicknamed “DJ Sir Nose,” was a longtime custodian at Winthrop University in York County. His funeral was held inside the coliseum that he cleaned.

Willie James Perry, 76, of Rock Hill, the driver of the other vehicle, also died at the scene, as did Anthony Roof, 46, of Chester, a passenger with Knox.

Knox apologized in court Thursday for the deaths. He cried several times as details of the deaths were discussed.

“My heart aches every minute of every day,” Knox said in court, to the families of the victims. “I am so sorry. May God help you in your lives.”

State Law Enforcement Division records show Knox has drunk driving convictions and other criminal convictions in South Carolina dating to 1992. Those convictions include three DUI offenses, habitual traffic offender, drug convictions, domestic violence, escape from prison and being drunk in public, SLED records show.

Felony DUI resulting in death carries up to 25 years in prison per victim in South Carolina. Knox pleaded no contest to three counts of felony DUI.

Prosecutor Candice Lively asked for a 25-year sentence. Lively agreed to a plea deal where the sentences for all three victims would run concurrently so that the victims’ families would not have to endure a trial.

Knox crossed the center line of the road and hit the other vehicle head-on, Lively said.

All three victims died at the scene, Lively said.

Knox had been drinking before the crash and beer cans were strewn across the scene of the crash, Lively said.

The crash was so severe it caused a fire to the vehicles, Lively said.

“Three people died horrible deaths in this crash,” Lively said in court.

John Perry, brother of victim Willie Perry, said in court that he and his family have forgiven Knox, and did not want him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

“We have no hate in our hearts,” John Perry said in court.

Tom Hall, Knox’s lawyer, called the forgiveness that the victims’ families offered in court the greatest single act of kindness he had ever witnessed in a courthouse.

Hall said in court that Knox was an alcoholic and that Knox was drunk at the time of the crash.

Yet Hall said that his investigation into the crash showed that a tire on the van could have had a separated tread which caused the crash.

If the case had gone to trial, jurors would have seen the tire and could have found Knox not guilty or brought back a hung jury if just one of 12 jurors did not agree Knox was guilty, Hall said.

But Knox wanted to accept responsibility for the deaths and plead Thursday, Hall said.

Hall asked the judge, Brian Gibbons for a 12-year sentence.

Gibbons decided on a 16-year sentence for Knox. A no contest plea, where a defendant does not admit guilt, is treated the same way for sentencing and prison as a guilty plea, Gibbons said.

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