Car crash victim found dead in deer stand - what went wrong? -, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Car crash victim found dead in deer stand - what went wrong?

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It is a great comfort to know that no matter where in the state you might find yourself broken down on the side of the road, no matter how remote, the South Carolina Highway Patrol can find you and get help to you. However, if you leave your car after a crash, you may be on your own, no matter what your condition at the time. Troopers do have a protocol for handling crashed and abandoned cars, but at least two families will tell you that protocol did nothing to save their loved ones.

Example after example shows where our current system can fail you when you and your family need help the most, despite what should have been a deadly lesson learned.

“How do you tell a 6 and a 4 year old that their momma ain't never coming home?” asks Sarah Reich, the cousin of Stephanie Callahan.

Callahan likely misjudged a curve and crashed along Morgan Road in Loris back on February 19. The temperature at the time of the crash was 17 degrees. The 24-year-old was wearing a t-shirt when she got out of the car. Stephanie had perhaps a couple hours outside the car to get help, or die.

Click or tap here to view an interactive timeline of events in the Stephanie Callahan case

John Timmons sped by the wreck on his moped moments after the crash… and then turned around. Something wasn't right.

“It was cranked up, music playing, I mean that's what got me,” Timmons says. “I said 'Lord,' I mean it just happened. It had to have just happened, you know what I'm saying.”

But Stephanie was gone.

The Trooper who responded to the crash says he did a quick search around the ditch, contacted local hospitals, county law enforcement, and had the car towed.

“I made the missing person's report on Friday morning and didn't hear anything all day,” insists Stephanie's mother, Eileen. “Kept trying to call her, kept trying to call her.”

Then, Saturday evening, the Callahan family was watching television.

“At 5:00 WMBF put on the news that her car had been pulled out of the ditch,” she says.

The family rushed to the crash site and began searching. They found Stephanie's frozen body within minutes.

The very best that investigators can piece this together, they believe Stephanie left her vehicle very shortly after the crash and because of that head injury, she was probably disoriented. She made her way through a short stand of woods and then across a very rustic, very muddy path. Less than 100 yards from the roadway where she crashed, she made her way to a deer stand. It only makes sense that Stephanie's parents are convinced that if only someone has notified them soon enough, Stephanie's life could have been saved.

“Her car was found and then this is Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” says Sarah Reich. “Sunday you proceed to tell us oh, 20 feet into the woods you find her. Why didn't you search Wednesday?”

The Trooper didn't search the woods because that's not his job. However, it is a trooper's job to treat a fresh accident with likely injuries with greater urgency, to search for family, friends and leads to locate the driver.

“When we're out there at a crash scene, we have tow truck driver out, we have firemen, EMS personnel, everyone wants to find that person,” says South Carolina Highway Patrol Sergeant, Bob Beres. “So, everyone makes that effort to make a reasonable search for that person.”

But what is reasonable? A visual search from the road, a quick call on the driver's last known address and a call to local hospitals? The Department of Public safety chose to fire the trooper handling Stephanie's accident for not following even basic protocol.

Sgt. Beres admits troopers must make judgement calls everyday. “We have tools available to us to help locate a person and we make every effort to do so but there are instances where people don't want to be found.”

That was the assumption in another early morning crash a South Carolina family says troopers mishandled just 100 miles away.

Joel Davis' father-in-law crashed his car on a state road in Fairfield County in November of 2010. It's likely he too misjudged a curve and flipped his car into a ditch.

Joel Davis' father in law died after a crash where he too wandered from a serious wreck on a rural road in the wee hours of the morning. “A large amount of blood was in and around the vehicle. For whatever reason Billy walked away whether that was he was disoriented or he was looking for help understanding it was a rural road people would not be coming by for quite some time.”

Forty-seven minutes later, a trooper arrived on the scene. What he saw was clearly evidence of a violent crash: fresh blood was splattered inside the car and out. The engine was still warm. Running the registration, he found the car belongs to Billy Pound. That trooper calls a tow truck, contacts a local hospital, and leaves the scene within about 45 minutes, immediately assuming, according to his bosses, that if the driver left the scene, he must be running from police.

“I think one of the most disappointing things for us was the Highway Patrol on the day of the accident started with the mindset or the paradigm this person had done something wrong and they're running from us, rather than a mindset of this person is injured, maybe disoriented, and not know their way and could in fact need help,” says Davis.

Billy Pound's family filed a missing persons report, attempted to retrace his route, and made sure every law enforcement agency in the region had Billy's information. Davis says the Highway Patrol admits it made an error in documenting this crash.

Keep in mind, Highway Patrol had everything it needed to reach this family if they had taken the time.

“The family went through a Thanksgiving without Billy,” Davis remembers. “The family went through a Christmas without Billy. And not understanding what happened to him. He and his vehicle, for all intents and purposes, had vanished into thin air.”

Sixty days later, the family got a call that Billy's wrecked VW had been sitting at a towing service lot since the morning of the accident - 60 days later. His cell phone was still on the floor.

Once they got the location of the crash, the family and friends began searching the area.

It took two years before loggers stumbled on Billy Pound's remains, in a wooded area not three miles from the crash site. The Pound family finally had closure, sort of.

Davis is convinced the trooper's oversight cost Billy Pound his life.

For Highway Patrol's part, they claim to have changed their response to abandoned vehicles, to a protocol that was once again not followed in the Stephanie Callahan case. WMBF News' David Klugh obtained a copy of their abandoned vehicle checklist through a Freedom of Information Act request. It includes: attempt to locate driver, notify local law enforcement, inventory the vehicle, contact hospitals.

But there is still plenty of room for a deadly error on this list. What Highway Patrol says can reduce that room for error is simple, and perhaps the most important thing to take away from this story. Get an envelope, label it “emergency contacts,” put your registration, proof of insurance and the names, addresses and phone numbers of at least two people close to you, and leave in the glove box or console. This might be what saves the life of someone you love, or yourself.

SLIDESHOW: See a list of 15 other important items to keep in your vehicle at all times

Or just trust that the officer who drives up on your crash will do everything in their power to find you. The Callahan's and the Pound's did just that.

“They said, the officer said, you need to understand, this sort of thing happens all the time,” Davis says. “And that was completely an unacceptable statement to the family or myself. And certainly I would think that should be an unacceptable statement to anyone in law enforcement. This is not the kind of thing that should happen all the time.”

The Pound family spent months building a case in an effort to sue the state highway patrol for negligence. They chose not to given that no real protocol had been violated by the trooper. However, the Callahan's are less likely to be as forgiving. They are building their case as we speak.

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