Four Killed in Wreck on US 17 in Beaufort County - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

06/23/05

Four Killed in Wreck on US 17 in Beaufort County

The scene at Gardens Corner. The scene at Gardens Corner.

Four people are dead, seven others are injured--two of them critically--after a terrible three-vehicle crash in South Carolina. It happened on US 17 just north of Gardens Corner in Beaufort County. Police and witnesses say it was one of the worst accidents they've ever seen.

Debris littered the highway, tires and large pieces of twisted metal, along with belongings savagely torn from three different vehicles.

"It's just unbelievable, you know? Seeing people laying all over the place," said witness Mike Bennet. "It's just about one of the worst accidents I've seen yet."

Bennet and Guy Budzell, who drive this route every week, saw it happen.

"Just horrible," Bennet said. "The bodies. They're saying like four people died. That's the hurting thing about the whole thing."

Investigators piecing together what happened say a white pickup truck crossed the center line and slammed into a white passenger van with 14 people on board. The van veered off the side of the road and burst into flames. Then an 18-wheeler that just couldn't stop in time ran into the truck, sending it off the other side of the highway.

"When we ran up on the accident, we called 911," said Budzell. "And we were sitting here while we were waiting for the ambulance to come and everything, and the big truck come through, hit the pickup truck, which was already in the middle of the road. And the van caught on fire. And it was just, it was a panic.

"We went over to see what we could do," he went on. "There was one person laying in the grass. The other fellow was pinned in behind the wheel."

This stretch of road has been the site of several deadly accidents. Last year, the Department of Transportation widened the shoulder of the road, but the South Carolina Highway Patrol admits, while it may help, it won't prevent every accident.

"Most of the time they're driver error," said Cpl. Paul Brouthers. "As you know, like in this case, the vehicle went across the center line and struck the van head on. Obviously that's driver error."

Charges are pending against the driver of the pickup truck, who is in critical condition at a Charleston hospital. The passenger in the pickup as well as three in van were killed.

Six other passengers from the van were injured. One is in critical condition at Memorial Health in Savannah.

Five people in the van and tractor-trailer diver were unhurt.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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