News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Apr. 12, 2013
AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- There was anger, and lots of it, at an Aiken NAACP press conference in the Smith Hazel Recreation Center.
"We are asking what's being done!" said James Gallman, a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors. "Why in the world did it take until Tuesday to begin investigating it!"
The subject was an incident that happened just a couple weekends ago.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety says the investigation has revealed that on Saturday, March 30, Lukisha Nicole 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.
Lukisha Nicole Thomas, 29, died while in surgery from multiple body trauma that same day.
Wooden was injured in the accident and was in critical condition, until doctors recently updated his status to a stable condition.
The driver who hit the black pedestrians was a white man, Tom Woodruff, who's actually a lawyer in Aiken.
"We feel that we have an obligation to find out what really happened here," says Gallman.
The NAACP wants answers, because Aiken Public Safety still hasn't charged the lawyer with anything. Gallman said if it were anyone else, they would have been charged immediately.
Chief Charles Barranco personally came to the meeting speak.
"This is the priority of Aiken Public Safety," he said, telling the crowd he's in talks with the family and couldn't talk about the specifics of an ongoing investigation.
However, the meeting got out of hand quickly. Many of them poked and prodded Chief Barranco. Some shouted "bring it on" as he walked to the lectern. Another woman shouted at Gallman, who was also at the lectern, and called him a racial slur.
But some, like Christopher Garris, stood in support.
"A lot of people are looking for this gentleman to be charged with murder," he says. "To charge someone with murder, there has to be intent."
Additionally, to charge Woodruff with either Involuntary Manslaughter or Reckless Manslaughter, Assistant Solicitor Bill Weeks says Aiken Public Safety will have to prove gross criminal negligence, and he says just driving onto a sidewalk isn't necessarily gross negligence alone.
"Understand the law, not opinion. Understand the law," adds Garris.
Aiken NAACP President Philip Howell says this meeting was to agitate Aiken Public Safety into continuing a thorough investigation. Chief Barranco did say there will be charges.
"However, the specific charges are still premature as to what those could be," he says.
Many at the meeting asked why Aiken Public Safety couldn't at least charge him with Reckless Driving or some kind of traffic charge immediately. Assistant Solicitor Weeks says if they did that, then got the proper evidence to charge him with manslaughter, it would open them up to a legal defense of Double Jeopardy, which could mean the bigger charge wouldn't stick.
By the way, the sister of Wooden spoke up and said this shouldn't be about race. However, she was cut off by an NAACP speaker and exited the room angrily.