BRANCHVILLE – A 21-year-old Columbia man has been charged with felony driving under the influence after his vehicle killed two motorcyclists Monday evening, officials say.
Sean Aston was charged with two counts of felony DUI and one count of second-offense driving under suspension. Orangeburg County Magistrate Jacob Gillens Sr. set bond Tuesday at $15,000 on each count of felony DUI and at $1,270 on the DUS charge.
South Carolina Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Bridget Wyatt said Aston was traveling north on Highway 21 at around 7 p.m. Monday when his 2008 Saturn crossed the center line near Wire Road in Branchville. The Saturn struck the two BMW motorcycles head-on, she said.
Francis Wright Smith Jr., 43, of Orangeburg, and Mary Catherine Green, 50, of 9 Crooked Stick, Columbia, both died of blunt-force trauma, according to Orangeburg County Coroner Samuetta Marshall.
Aston was transported to the Regional Medical Center. His passenger was not injured.
Clad in an orange jumpsuit, the red-headed Aston sat stoically prior to his hearing.
Family attorney Mark Wise informed the judge that Aston is a senior at the University of South Carolina and is holding down two jobs to pay for his education. One of the jobs is at the Darla Moore School of Business.
Wise also noted Aston’s parents are working professionals who are helping pay for his education.
“We don’t think he is a threat to the community,” Wise said. “His family has good jobs. His ties are secure. He is a person here trying to get the best education.”
During the bond hearing, S.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. William Rogan Jr. informed Gillens of Aston’s criminal background, noting several misdemeanors such as possession of marijuana, alcohol-related charges and failure to show up for court, to name a few.
Don Reed, the partner of Green’s mother, told the judge that with Aston’s background, it is obvious that he is a man who “cannot make good decisions.”
“The court has a right to keep him out of society,” Reed said.
Reed expressed his disappointment at the size of the bond.
“I am astonished that ... the bail is low,” he said. “It is unbelievable, particularly with this man’s record.”
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After talking with the S.C. Highway Patrol, Reed said he was informed the bond was about average for felony DUI charges.
“He absolutely ran over them in his car,” Reed said.
Green’s brother, Michael McDaniel, said he was experiencing “Pain, heartbreak, an empty heart.”
“I am in shock,” he said.
McDaniel said the family heard the news of the accident around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I think it was too low. ... People know better than drinking and driving,” he said.
“Cathy did not have a bad bone in her body,” McDaniel said. “She was a real good Christian. She was a religious teacher of kindergarten at Spring Valley Baptist Church in Columbia.”
Green and Smith both worked at the South Carolina Student Loan office in Columbia, he said. “She had a good job and she had her own office.”
Aston’s family members, who traveled from Maryland, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., declined comment on the bond or the incident. Wise also declined comment.
Year-to-date, there have been 21 highway fatalities in Orangeburg County compared to 13 this same time last year.
Three people, including Green and Smith, died on Orangeburg County roads over the long holiday weekend. There were a total of eight highway fatalities across the state.
In Calhoun County, there have been four fatalities so far this year, compared to nine last year. In Bamberg County, there have been two fatalities — the same as last year.
As of Sept. 2, 472 people have died on South Carolina highways, compared to 552 highway deaths during the same time period in 2012, according to the Highway Patrol. Of the 312 motor vehicle occupants who died in 2013, 184 were not wearing seat belts.
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