After Aiken pedestrians struck, local lawmaker files bill

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- It's the accident that's still stirring controversy.

"We have a very conservative town, and I know a lot of Republicans and very Conservative people, but they all agree that this is ridiculous," says Philip Howell, the Aiken Branch NAACP President.

On Saturday, March 30, Thomas, her son and Ray Charles Wooden Jr. were walking on the sidewalk near the corner of York Street and Eastern Place when a driver jumped the curb and hit both Thomas and Wooden.

Thomas, 29, died while in surgery from multiple body traumas that same day.

Wooden was injured in the accident and was in critical condition until doctors updated his status to a stable condition. He was later released from the hospital, but he is still undergoing large amounts of physical therapy.

"We can't fault what the police did, because they did what the law required them to," says Howell.

However, in a heated NAACP meeting back in April, citizens called for charges like manslaughter, vehicular homicide, even murder.

A week later, the Aiken County Solicitor's Office, along with the city solicitor and Aiken Public Safety, determined careless driving was the proper charge.

The careless driving ordinance reads that "It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle in a careless manner in disregard of the safety of persons or property upon any street, sidewalk, alley or parking area, public or private, within the corporate limits of the city."

The driver, Aiken attorney Tom Woodruff, reportedly only paid a $155 dollar fine.

Aiken Public Safety said, legally, there were no grounds to arrest Woodruff, perform a field-side sobriety test, or any other tests to determine whether Woodruff was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

"People stop me at the gas station or in Kroger or something, and they'll stop me and say, 'What are they doing about this? Is anything being done?'" says Howell.

Representative Bill Clyburn (D-Aiken) is working on a fix.

"It was truly a terrible accident. I, personally, have not gotten over it. I have to pass it everyday to get where I'm going," he says.

The legislation Clyburn prefiled would require a driver to submit to tests to see if they're driving intoxicated or on drugs if they cause an accident that kills someone or causes great bodily harm.

"It will clear up some of the disenchantments that we have throughout the community because of the really tragic accident that happened," he says.

However, Public Safety has always said that the officers on the scene didn't believe Woodruff was intoxicated in any way, and they say they determined he wasn't speeding or texting. Two of the officers on scene were advanced DUI certified.

"You know, some people can probably act like they're not drunk at all, when they're just blitzed, you know. They're blood-alcohol level might be high. But unless you have that test, you don't know," says Howell.

The NAACP leader says the law will help bring justice in some cases.

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