Neighbors speak out after Dillon Co. murder suspect escapes S.C. transitional facility

Neighbors speak out after Dillon Co. murder suspect escapes S.C. transitional facility
Donovan Lewis (Source: Greenville County Sheriff's Office)

PIEDMONT, S.C. (WYFF) - The search may have ended for 28-year-old Donovan Lewis, but fears remain high for residents in the Fork Shoals Community.

Lewis, of Rowland, North Carolina, was arrested in 2016 for the murder of his stepmother in Dillon County, according to Capt. Cliff Arnette with the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office.

However, according to Shipp Daniel, the assistant solicitor to the 4th Judicial Circuit, Lewis was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Daniel said that Lewis was sent to a mental hospital, but was later recommended by the state’s mental health department to be placed in a step-down facility. That step-down facility was Gregory’s Community Care in Piedmont.

“The 4th Circuit Solicitor’s Office does not have anything to do where incompetent people are housed,” Daniel told WYFF News 4. “At all. That is 100% on the department of mental health.”

Still, Daniel says this move is standard state protocol for anyone facing mental health issues.

“This is a normal thing,” Daniel said. “This is what DMH does because this is what our laws tell us we do for people that aren’t competent to stand trial. They try to get them to a place where they can be reintegrated into society.”

Lewis was reported missing from Gregory’s Community Care on July 14. Officials say that he went missing between July 13 at 11 p.m. and July 14 at 6 a.m. Daniel said that Lewis later turned himself into a facility in Columbia a few days later.

On Tuesday, before the news of Lewis’ recapture was announced, community members, who asked to remain anonymous, met with WYFF News 4′s Madeleine Hackett to share their concerns. Up until Lewis’ escape, they say they had no idea that criminals of that level were being housed at Gregory’s Community Care.

“We no longer feel safe,” said one community member. “That place is not equipped to house anyone like that. If you think about an accused murderer being there, you have to imagine sex offenders and other people that shouldn’t be out and about in the community. So that place is totally inadequate for that.”

“This guy’s gone. But there’s others. There’s probably others housed right there right now.”

“We used to feel safe being able to walk around our community, go for a walk ... now you have to think, maybe somebody else has escaped or the person who has escaped ... nobody knows who he is. He could be living right in this community right now.”

These residents are now demanding more transparency from Gregory’s and the state department of mental health. They have not received answers as to why a criminal accused of murder was living at a facility without their knowledge. They say they also did not learn of Lewis’ escape until they read about it in the news the next day.

A spokeswoman with the state’s department of mental health confirmed that it was a Community Residential Care Facility but had no further comment, and directed her statement to the 4th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. Workers at Gregory’s Community Care had no comment, either.

“I think it’s unconscionable that (Lewis) was able to walk away from a facility,” Daniel said. “Will it make us think twice the next time DMH comes to us and says ‘hey, we’re ready to step someone out of our hospital and send (them) to another place?’ Of course it will. Of course we’ll think twice about that. Next time.”

Daniel said that Lewis was taken back into custody without incident. According to Daniel, no known crimes were committed by Lewis during his escape.

Copyright 2020 WYFF. All rights reserved.