Fresh off of losing his first election in nearly 25 years, former Fort Mill Mayor Charlie Powers found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5.
But, his misfortune probably saved another person's life.
That night, Powers went to John Boy's Valero on Spratt Street to pick up some chewing tobacco. He never made it inside the door. He pulled the door open and held it for the man who was leaving at the same time. That man, later identified by police as Phillip Fleming Watts Jr., put a gun to Power's head and pulled the trigger.
He had already shot store owner Yen Nguyen and stolen more than $1,000.
The bullet went through Powers' cheek and Watts fled. Another car pulled into the gas station and gave Powers a ride to the Fort Mill Police Department. During the ride, one of the passengers in the car called 911 and soon police arrived at the store. Nguyen was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Powers also went to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Fort Mill police swept the area with dogs searching for the suspect. Watts was arrested more than two weeks later and charged with seven robberies during which four people were shot. He was also accused of shooting Ida Lord Neal while robbing Cash on the Spot in Rock Hill and shooting Saltwater Seafood Market owner Ping Chen also in Rock Hill. He was indicted on all charges by a grand jury in May and was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in September on one of the robbery charges.
Cases against him for the three robberies that involved shootings are still pending and York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett said he plans to seek a life term if Watts is convicted of those crimes.
Prior to Watts' arrest, gas station and convenience store employees from around Fort Mill Township and Rock Hill spoke of their fear of being the next victim. Many stores changed operating hours, closing up early, and made other changes to make sure employees weren't left alone in the stores late at night.
"I joked that I'll never open the door for anyone again," Powers said while recovering from the shooting. "But when we went out earlier I was already grabbing doors and pulling them open for folks."