September 2, 2014

Two security guards killed at vacant textile plant identified

The Greenville County Coroner’s Office has now identified two men whose bodies were found outside a vacant Greenville County textile equipment plant early Friday morning.

The two were identified as 53-year-old Richard Ellison and 65-year-old Bobby Wood. Coroner Parks Evans said both men were security guards at the shuttered JD Hollingsworth on Wheels plant south of Greenville. Evans said both had multiple stab and gunshot wounds. Greenville County Sheriff’s deputies said they do not have any suspects at this time.

Deputies said a newspaper carrier spotted the bodies around 3:36 a.m. Friday and called 911.

The 60-acre Hollingsworth property is located off Highway 276 between Mauldin and the Greenville city limits, near Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). The facility closed in 2009, but the company maintains 24-hour security at the site. Both bodies were found near a guard shack at the gate, according to Fox Carolina.

Master Deputy Jonathan Smith said it appeared the murders occurred during a shift change, as typically only one guard mans the gate at a time. Smith said K-9 units and deputies searched the property for any evidence connected to the deaths.

“We understand the concerns from citizens,” he said, asking anyone who had seen anything suspicious in the area to call Crimestoppers at (843) 23-CRIME. “We’d just remind everybody to be mindful.”

In a statement released Friday, Hollingsworth Funds said both men were longtime employees. Woods had been an employee at the site since 1967, while Ellison had worked there since 1998.

Bond denied for man accused of crashing into Clinton retirement home

Bond has been denied for a man accused of deliberately crashing his car into an assisted living facility in Clinton on Wednesday, sending eight people to the hospital and forcing the evacuation of all 40 residents.

A judge on Thursday denied bond for 84-year-old Alton Payton on an attempted murder charge, according to the Clinton Chronicle. The judge set a $10,000 bond on a charge of malicious injury to property. Clinton Public Safety Director Robin Morse had told the court he believed Payton was a danger to himself and the community.

Two family members are asking the judge to consider a psychological evaluation, saying that Payton is suffering from early signs of dementia.

Investigators said the 84-year-old rammed his car through the doors at Bailey Manor Presbyterian retirement home Wednesday and ended up in the lobby. While no one was injured in the crash itself, Morse said a portable gas can in the car caught fire and several people suffered smoke inhalation. All 40 residents had to be evacuated. Authorities estimated the crash did $500,000 worth of damage to the home.

According to the Chronicle, Bailey Manor Administrator Rita Stanley said it will take several weeks to repair the building. She said most of the residents are staying with family, while others are at Presbyterian Community South Carolina or National HealthCare Clinton.

Tom Hayes contributed to this report

Former Myrtle Beach legislator pleads not guilty to laundering charge

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

A former state legislator has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds.

Former State Rep. Thad Viers entered the plea during his arraignment in federal court Thursday. Prosecutors say the Myrtle Beach Republican helped a paving contractor who had defaulted on a $6 million road project.

An indictment unsealed earlier this month asserts that Viers helped the man hide his ownership in a marina and an investment firm when a bonding company sought to collect the debt. That contractor Marlon Weaver pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2013.

Viers was indicted on 12 counts of engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds, one count of money laundering, and another count of lying to an IRS agent. Prosecutors say Weaver backdated documents to make it appear he had transferred his interest in the marina and side business.

The indictment states Viers helped Weaver hide his financial assets by withdrawing $524,000 from his law firm’s trust account between February and October 2011. The indictment states Viers knew the money came from Weaver’s unlawful activities. Viers was also accused of working with a third man to help hide Weaver’s assets from September 2009 to October 2011.

According to the Associated Press, Viers’ attorney Pete Strom maintained that his client did not realize he was breaking the law. Strom told reporters outside the Florence courtroom Thursday that South Carolina’s two law schools do not properly teach law students about complex financial matters they could encounter.

Viers served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 until 2012. He resigned to face harassment charges and eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment in January. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison (to be served on weekends) and a year of probation. Most of these new charges allegedly occurred while Viers was still in the House, although prosecutors say the charge of lying to an IRS agent stems from a March conversation.

SC Supreme Court: Man entitled to workers comp for kickball injury


SC Supreme Court (File)

SC Supreme Court (File)

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a marketing employee was entitled to workers compensation after injuring himself during a Greenville company’s kickball game.

In a 3-2 ruling, the justices determined Stephen Whigham’s injury was covered under workers comp laws because he had organized the game as part of his job. Whigham worked for the Greenville office of Jackson Dawson Communications, a marketing/public relations firm. According to court testimony, he came up with the idea of a kickball game as a team-building exercise for employees. During the game, Whigham shattered two bones in his leg while trying to avoid being tagged out.

He underwent two surgeries and told the court he will ultimately need a knee replacement. He had appealed after the Workers Compensation Commission ruled in 2012 that the injury did not arise out of or in the course of Whigham’s employment because his participation was not required.

However the majority sided with Whigham, saying he was “impliedly required” to attend an event he had organized for his coworkers.

“Whigham’s participation was expected rather than voluntary,” Justice Kay Hearn wrote for the majority. “This fact sets Whigham’s participation apart from that of all the other employees. It is undisputed that Whigham felt compelled to go and his boss would have considered it a dereliction of duty to miss it.”

The dissenting judges argued that, while Whigham’s attendance may have been expected at the kickball game, that did not require him to participate.

“Attending the event and participating in the kickball game are entirely different things,” Justice John Kittredge wrote.

The Workers Compensation Commission

will now hold another hearing at a later date to determine how much Whigham should be paid for his injury.

Embattled Columbia drug lab chemist resigns


Columbia Police Chief William "Skip" Holbrook (Image: Master Police Officer Sonny Smith)

Columbia Police Chief William “Skip” Holbrook (Image: Master Police Officer Sonny Smith)

The woman who ran Columbia’s drug lab has now resigned, a day after news broke that city police chief Skip Holbrook had ordered the lab’s closure over concerns of improperly handled tests that may have wrongly imprisoned some suspects.

The resignation of the Columbia Police Department’s lone drug analyst Brenda Frasier on Monday comes after Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson began notifying defense attorneys about concerns over the quality of work being done at the lab. In a letter sent last week, Johnson confirmed Columbia Police had shut down the lab and was temporarily sending test results to the State Law Enforcement Division for study.

The State newspaper reports Holbrook said he had ordered the analysis shortly after taking office. The audit conducted last month found that Frazier had gaps in her forensic evidence training which led to mistakes in the handling and storage of sensitive chemicals. The audit suggested that Frazier was either unaware of or ignored standardized procedures that would help ensure the drug test results were accurate.

“At this time, I felt like these deficiencies were insurmountable and we needed to shut down all operations,” Holbrook told reporters in a Monday briefing.

The chief added he had been concerned that drug lab tests were no longer being peer-reviewed by other chemists outside the police department, as industry standards demand. 188 cases had become held up in a backlog since the peer review ended, he said. In all, Frazier had done analysis in a total of 746 cases, Holbrook said.

Holbrook said Frazier was hired as an assistant in late 2011, but began running the lab herself after her superior left just months later. The chief did not explain why Frazier was the only chemist in the lab. Holbrook was sworn into office as chief in April.

Both Holbrook and Johnson said they do not know at this point if the problems led to any potential wrongful convictions.