Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill crash, DUI charge in 'high-risk month'

Peggy Haynes heard screeching tires.

Next came the crash.

"I heard one big bang," Daniel "Danny" Haynes recalled. "It happened so quick."

Several teens crawled from the back of a wrecked sport utility vehicle and took off running, chased by Haynes and her son, Jason Haynes.

Mother and son had not yet seen the wreck's chaos in their front yard.

"My first thought was, 'Oh, Lord, somebody's hurt,'" Peggy Haynes said last week from her Brookshire Drive home.

What they wouldn't know until later was that a teen driver police accuse of driving drunk crashed his SUV into three of their vehicles the night of April 2.

"He was drinking and driving," Peggy Haynes said, after talking to police. "They could have all been killed. We could have had five families at the coroner's office asking, 'why?'"

No one died or got hurt that night, but as prom and graduation season approach, so does a grave reality: York County is a leader in traffic fatalities.

So far this year, Troop 4 -- which covers Chester, Cherokee, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Lancaster, Union and York counties -- has responded to 17 collisions resulting in 18 fatalities, said Lance Cpl. Jeff Gaskin of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. Of that, six collisions happened in York County, resulting in seven fatalities.

"Nearly 40 percent of the fatal collisions in Troop 4 occurred in York County," Gaskin said.

But the news gets more disturbing, Cpl. Bryan McDougald said.

"When we arrive at the scene of teen crashes and fatalities, what we find is that nearly half involve alcohol and/or drugs," he said.

After the April 2 crash, the highway patrol charged 19-year-old Cory S. Threatt of 102 Apple Valley Way in Fort Mill with driving under the influence and driving under suspension, Gaskin said.

A phone number for Threatt could not be found and he could not be reached for comment.

Around 10 p.m., Peggy Haynes was making a snack in her kitchen for her granddaughter as Jason watched TV from a living room couch and his father, Danny, drifted off to sleep in his bedroom.

Outside in their driveway sat a 1995 two-door Toyota Camry, a 2007 Hyundai SUV and a 2008 Toyota pickup truck. Nearby, Threatt was driving a 2000 Chevy SUV along Legion Road, according to the highway patrol.

"The driver, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, attempted to turn left onto Brookshire Road and ran off the right side of the road and struck a mailbox," Gaskin said.

"He traveled across a yard and struck a Hyundai SUV on the right side," Gaskin added. "That SUV was pushed into a Toyota Camry. Then he hit a pickup truck head-on."

That's when Threatt's SUV came to a stop and the teen passengers spilled out the back and allegedly took off running with Peggy and Jason on their heels. Danny followed and returned to his house a short time later with his family and the teens.

"I saw one teen standing at the rear of the car," Danny Haynes recalled. "I walked up to him. He said, 'This is my car, but I wasn't driving.' I asked him who was driving, and he said, 'I don't know who was driving.'"

Then he saw the Chevy SUV.

"It was head-on to Jason's pickup truck," he said. "It was unbelievable how much damage was done to the vehicles sitting in the driveway."

And when the wrecker came, the Haynes were greeted with a surprise.

"We found a 12-pack of Natural lite beer pushed under the Hyundai," Danny said.

Pictures taken of the wreck scene show the 12-pack under a vehicle and a crumbled beer can just under a tire of the Chevy SUV.

Now, one of the Haynes' cars is totaled. The other two have significant damage.

"I don't harbor any bad feelings toward the kids," Danny said. "I wished they hadn't been drinking. All the cars can be replaced. Human life can't be replaced."

Fatalities up

Statistics from the highway patrol show that in April and May of 2007, Troop 4 dealt with 14 fatalities. During that same time in 2008, the troop had 26 fatalities, an 85 percent increase, Gaskin said.

"These are prom and spring break months, which historically have been high-risk months for our teens because of prom and spring break travels," Gaskin said.

Teens were driving during two fatal York County collisions this year, but no alcohol was involved, Gaskin said. Last year, 103 fatal collisions occurred in Troop 4. Of that, 27 fatalities with nine teen drivers were in York County. Four of the collisions were alcohol related, Gaskin said.

"We saw a decline in overall traffic fatalities as compared to 2007," he said. "However, in 2008, we saw a rise in alcohol-related fatalities. South Carolina is the second deadliest state for alcohol-related fatalities behind North Carolina."

The Haynes said teen drivers' choices impact their lives and that of others. On April 2, the Chevy SUV missed a power box by two feet, Daniel said.

"If they would have hit that, that could have lit them up," he said. "It would have been bad."

The outcome could have been different for Jason in the family's living room near the area where the vehicles were parked.

"If it hadn't been for our cars, he would have come in our living room," Danny Haynes said of the driver manning the Chevy SUV.

And Peggy offered a message for the teen involved in the April 2 collision.

"They could have died," she said. "My family members could have died. They could have ended up being paralyzed. Their dreams for what they want in life could have been taken away from them."

Because of bad choices, officials said.

"We have enforcement as our tool," McDougald said. "If we have to write tickets to save lives, we will.

"Parents are a stake holder," he added. "They have to go beyond giving their keys to their teenager with the only requirement being be home by a certain time."