Richland County deputy collapses, dies after car chase

COLUMBIA -- Willie Taylor didn't know what to think when he saw the handcuffed man approach the deputy lying on the ground in his front yard in the pre-dawn hours Friday.

Taylor worried the man might be trying to get the officer's gun or keys to the cuffs and called 911.

But footage from the video recorder in Deputy Darral Keith Lane's cruiser reveals a different story.

"He tried to talk to (Lane) and wake him up. He tried to get to his walkie-talkie and push the (help) button, but his hands were behind his back," Sheriff Leon Lott said.

Lane was pronounced dead at Palmetto Health Richland at 6:30 a.m. An autopsy showed he died of a heart attack brought on by the stress of the situation, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said.

Those tense minutes in Taylor's yard on Burton Street came at the end of a brief car chase that started when Lane tried to pull over a suspicious vehicle leaving the parking lot of a closed convenience store on Fairfield Road.

The license plates had been reported stolen, though the car was registered to the driver, 34-year-old Matthew Denny Hooks, of Jaggers Plaza.

Police are still looking for Hooks, 34, and have charged him with involuntary manslaughter in Lane's death, as well as failure to stop for blue lights. He also is wanted by Columbia police on a breach-of-trust charge.

The 5th Circuit solicitor's office reviewed the case and felt Hook's actions contributed to Lane's death, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Chris Cowan.

Lott declined to identify the two passengers, including the handcuffed man who tried to help Lane, because they are not charged with a crime.

Lott choked back tears as he talked about Lane, who last week was named Deputy of the Quarter. Lott takes quarterly winners to lunch as part of their reward.

"He was a great cop. He was doing his job. We are proud of him," Lott said.

Lane joined the Sheriff's Department in February 2006 after serving 20 years in the Army.

He is the sixth deputy to die in the line of duty in the department's history, and the third in Lott's 10 years as sheriff.

Hooks was the first out of the car Friday and ran when it stopped in Taylor's yard at the end of the dead-end street, Lott said.

Both passengers lay on the ground. Lane had just handcuffed one of them when he suddenly went down to his knees and then fell prone on the ground, Lott said.

Watts said Lane had an enlarged heart caused by high cholesterol and blood pressure. He also had severe cardiac disease. Watts said Lane's wife told him her husband was aware of his medical condition.

"This heart attack could have happened while he was playing basketball. It could have happened in his sleep," Watt said.

Lott said Lane's death as the result of a stress-induced heart attack demonstrates why he pushes his officers to stay in shape.

"He's just been in a car chase. It's one against three. He doesn't know what they've done," he said. "All that stress just piles up on you."

Lott said he provided a counseling session for 20 deputies who responded to the scene and sent them home for the day.

"We've got a healing process in this department that began this morning and will go on for a while," he said.

Much of Lane's family already was in town to see his 23-year-old son, Darral Jr., graduate from Lander University today. Lane also is survived by his wife, Sheila, and another son, Darius.

Though veteran defense attorney Bill Nettles cannot recall any similar cases, he said the charge of involuntary manslaughter is not uncommon in "unusual factual scenarios" such as Friday's.

"The challenge will be proving a connection between the illegal activity and this tragic death."