Andrew Dys

Cross placed where woman died in a Rock Hill crash cops say was caused by a fleeing drug dealer

Near the intersection of Heckle Boulevard and Crawford Road, the median is a thin strip of concrete not more than three feet wide. But it is wide enough, and important enough, for someone to build a cross on the spot.

It is a cross of thin strips of pine wood and some plastic flowers on it held in place by a concrete block. It is just two or three feet tall and a foot wide. It tilts. The rush of trucks past it makes the cross twist in the air.

Yet no cross ever was more beautiful, or loomed larger, because placed there by strangers to remember the life a South Carolina woman.

Virginia Bartell, 72, a beloved retired teacher from just south of Great Falls in Ridgeway, died Sept. 7 when polices say a convicted drug dealer named Stevie McClinton, driving a 1973 Buick Century, as heavy as an Army tank, crashed into a tiny Toyota Prius. Bartell was in the passenger seat of the Prius.

The heavy old car smashed the Prius, police say, and Bartell who had played golf with her friends after a life of so much love and giving was smashed and she died.

Another passenger lived through a broken pelvis and broken neck. Others were hurt, too.

McClinton ran away, police say, then was tackled by arriving cops and even neighbors who helped the cop.

A recent parolee from state prison for some of his many convictions for drugs and weapons, burglary, beating women and even hustling fraudulent credit cards, McClinton has not run anywhere since.

But that was more than a week ago. Since then, somebody put up the cross at the crash site.

“We don’t know who put that cross up, but it is a nice gesture,” said Will Wildermuth of Lake Wylie, Bartell’s brother-in-law. “It’s a beautiful gesture.”

Family members who drive that route – Heckle Boulevard is also S.C. 901 and a route from the lake and western York County to meet up with Interstate 77 south. That’s why Bartell was on that stretch of road Sept. 7.

McClinton, on the other hand, was on that stretch because he was a probation violator, police say. The cops saw him and tried to get him. This time the poison of drugs was not a killer but the car McClinton was driving was enough.

There were more than 240 people at Virginia Bartell’s funeral. Among them, former students, teachers and peers.

“I wish, somehow, that Mr. McClinton could have been there to hear all the great things said about Virginia,” Wildermuth said.

But McClinton is in the York County jail without bond facing charges for the death of Bartell, the injuries to others, the two guns, the 70 grams of cocaine and other drugs police found in his 1973 Buick Century.

There is nothing honoring Stevie McClinton, 23, at the intersection where the crash happened. But next to the cross’s base is a single wiper blade. The old style, the kind that would fit on a 1973 Buick Century.

There is nothing there, though, to wipe away the tears of those who loved Virginia Bartell. Just the constant traffic, and a “beautiful gesture” cross of wood that sways, which was left by a stranger so that Bartell would not be forgotten.