Crime

Felon charged in fatal Rock Hill crash had drugs, guns in car

Family member of woman killed in Rock Hill crash says suspect's apology 'a little late'

The man charged in a Wednesday crash that killed a woman and injured several others apologized to the brother-in-law of the woman who died. Rock Hill Police say they would also like to locate the three motorists who helped an officer apprehend the
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The man charged in a Wednesday crash that killed a woman and injured several others apologized to the brother-in-law of the woman who died. Rock Hill Police say they would also like to locate the three motorists who helped an officer apprehend the

Crouched over in his seat in Rock Hill Municipal Court on Thursday, his elbows on his knees, Will Wildermuth couldn’t accept the apology from the convicted felon charged in the crash that killed his sister-in-law.

“A little late now,” Wildermuth said to Stevie McClinton, who had turned around and apologized to Wildermuth during his Thursday afternoon bond hearing on nearly a dozen charges.

McClinton, who turned 23 the day of the fatal crash, was fleeing police in a 1973 Buick Century around 4:20 p.m. Wednesday when he ran a red light at Heckle Boulevard and Crawford Road, plowing into a Toyota Prius that then hit a pickup, police said. Virginia Bartell, 72, was a front seat passenger in the Prius and had to be extricated. She was taken by helicopter to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she later died.

Police had received information that McClinton – who was wanted for a probation violation – had been selling drugs and weapons out of his car, officials said. After spotting him on Robinson Street, officers tried to stop him. Instead, he sped away, police said, running a stop sign while turning onto Crawford Road.

The officers disengaged and turned off their blue lights while continuing toward Heckle Boulevard, officials said. As they approached Heckle, they saw McClinton run the red light and drive into the intersection “at a high rate of speed,” crashing into the Prius carrying Bartell and her friends – who were passing through Rock Hill on the way home to Ridgeway after a day of playing golf.

If there was ever a circumstance where a bond should be denied, it’s this case.”

– Municipal Judge Peter Lenzi, denying bond for the man charged in a fatal Rock Hill crash

The driver of the Prius was not injured, Detective Ryan Thomas said during Thursday’s bond hearing. Another passenger, a 62-year-old woman, suffered a broken neck and severe internal injuries and remained hospitalized.

“She’s currently fighting for her life,” Thomas said.

When officers arrived at the scene of the crash, Thomas said, they saw McClinton get out of his car and flee on foot. An investigator ran after McClinton and tried to arrest him, but McClinton started fighting the officer. Three people who had stopped at the wreck got out of their cars and helped the investigator restrain McClinton.

Inside McClinton’s car, Thomas said, investigators found 70 grams of crack cocaine, nine grams of powder cocaine, marijuana, a digital scale and two guns.

McClinton already had a number of convictions on his record, including burglary, credit card fraud, domestic violence and drug and weapon offenses, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Stemming from Wednesday’s events, he faces charges of failure to stop for blue lights when death results, leaving the scene of an accident when death results, leaving the scene of an accident with great bodily injury, trafficking cocaine-second offense, possession with intent to distribute cocaine-second offense, resisting arrest and multiple other drug and weapon charges.

You really don’t think about it too much until it hits your immediate family.”

– Will Wildermuth, brother-in-law of Virginia Barlett, killed in Wednesday’s crash in Rock Hill

“If there was ever a circumstance where a bond should be denied, it’s this case,” Municipal Judge Peter Lenzi said. “You really present as a substantial danger to this community.”

Addressing the court Thursday, Wildermuth said dangerous offenders too often are getting back into communities and on the roadways. He cited the recent case of a Clover woman with multiple DUI convictions who was charged in a Charlotte drunken-driving crash that killed a grandmother last month.

“These things happen every day in the United States,” Wildermuth told reporters after the hearing. “You really don’t think about it too much until it hits your immediate family.”

When asked about the exchange with McClinton in court, Wildermuth said he and his family are too numb to forgive McClinton right now.

“Apologies can come cheap,” he said. “... I think maybe people might (forgive him) if they saw him change his way of life, become productive and do something different.”

Bartell and her husband, Bill, had been married 53 years, Wildermuth said. A retired elementary school teacher of more than 30 years, Bartell and her friends, along with Wildermuth and his wife, played in a golf tournament in Lake Wylie on Wednesday.

“Virginia hugged me (Wednesday) and said, ‘Have a great day,’” Wildermuth recalled. “And now she’s gone.

“Bill said he waved bye to his wife that morning when she left Tuesday to come up here – never knowing he wouldn’t see her alive again.”

Teddy Kulmala: 803-329-4082, @teddy_kulmala

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