DUI felon, accused in Chester wreck that left 3 dead, faces families in court

A three-time convicted drunk driver, accused of being impaired in a 2016 Chester County head-on crash that left three people dead, including a beloved Winthrop custodian, appeared in court Thursday.

For the first time, Joseph Dewayne Knox, 42, faced the families of those who died in the crash. He faces as much as 75 years in prison if convicted of three counts of DUI resulting in death.

Knox was the only survivor in the Oct. 23 crash on Saluda Road; police say he was driving under the influence. He walked into court on crutches, wearing a leg brace and an ankle monitor. The passenger in his vehicle in the October wreck, and two people in the other vehicle, were not in court.

All three are dead.

Prosecutor Candice Lively read their names in court.

Willie James Perry, 76, of Rock Hill, who took care of his ill wife and wheelchair-bound son.

Anthony Roof, 46, of Chester, who was Knox’s passenger.

Sir Lawrence Darby, 53, of Rock Hill, so loved by the basketball team where he cleaned the Winthrop Coliseum and the court that some players had his name on their shoes and his funeral was held in the arena.

Darby and Perry were on the way home from a benefit DJ gig when they were killed.

Knox said nothing in court Thursday. He did tear up a couple of times when looking at the families, and he rubbed his hand over his face.

Although it was not mentioned in court Thursday, State Law Enforcement Division records show Knox has drunk driving convictions and other criminal convictions 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.

Judge Brian Gibbons said in court Thursday to the families of the dead that “the court must presume he is innocent until he is proven guilty. And he is entitled to a bond.”

Gibbons said in court that bond hearings in DUI death cases are the hardest, because victims families have to see, before trial or plea, the person accused of the carnage. And that person, if given a bond, walks free while the dead are buried.

“I feel your pain; I see it in your faces,” said Gibbons the judge to the victims’ families.

Knox has been out on $30,000 bond since the middle of January. Part of the reason is because the Chester County jail does not have facilities to handle Knox’s multiple medical problems from the crash, 6th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively said.

The hearing Thursday was initially scheduled because Knox wanted to get rid of the ankle bracelet that monitors his house arrest, but that motion was pulled at the last minute.

Knox’s lawyer, Tom Hall, said in court that to “be gracious” to the families of the dead, and as part of “the healing process,” he did not object to families having the chance to speak in court Thursday after they showed up for a hearing that was canceled.

So the hearing went on.

The families, for the most part, stayed on the benches of the courthouse. Some cried. Their grief spoke for them.

Their silence and tears filled the old courthouse. Perry’s wife was too sick and frail to be in court.

Lively read a prepared letter from Phyllis Perry, widow of Willie Perry. The letter described Perry as a caregiver, a father, husband, grandfather and great-grandfather, whose life of work and love and church and joy ended with an accused drunk driver plowing head-on into the van he was in.

“Three lives were lost and we want justice,” Lively read from Phyllis Perry’s letter.

No trial date has been set. Justice will have to wait.

Knox, free on bond, limped out of the court with his head bowed. The families of the dead walked out, their heads bowed, too, from the weight of sorrow.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald