The Greenville News - Connor Hughes RE: Thomason and Pracht Lawyers Blog
SC Driver Nearly killed a child in Greenville road rage crash
Welfred Hallens hasn't been able to get out of his hospital bed for the past two weeks. The 13-year-old's body is immobilized by an array of casts and braces, to the point that he can't feed himself.
The driver of the car that hit him, 56-year-old Norman Earl Gardner Jr., faces a maximum sentence of a $200 fine or 30 days in prison after being cited for reckless driving, the maximum charge available to authorities because of what some lawmakers call a gap in state law.
The state has a separate statute for reckless vehicular homicide, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but none for reckless driving resulting in injury.
Welfred has been in the hospital since Gardner's Chrysler PT Cruiser smashed into him Sept. 18 as he walked on the sidewalk along North Pleasantburg Drive, throwing him into the street, nearly killing him.
Police say the car hit Welfred after Gardner lost control while trying to cut off another motorist in a fit of rage. He was going about 75 mph — 30 mph above the posted speed limit — when his car went onto the sidewalk and hit Welfred, police said.
Multiple injuries, surgeries
The impact broke Welfred's pelvis, back, neck, ribs, wrist and both of his kneecaps. Welfred also suffered a brain injury and has undergone multiple surgeries in the two weeks since the wreck, police said.
A GoFundMe page his family set up to offset the cost of his mounting medical bills said the teen would have to relearn how to perform everyday tasks as part of a lengthy and painful recovery process.
"The worst-case scenario would be a situation where he was rendered permanently disabled for the rest of his life," said Christopher Pracht, an Anderson-based attorney representing Welfred's family. "But there's a wide swath between the worst-case scenario and best-case scenario, and we're all just hoping for the best."
Pracht told The Greenville News that Welfred's 9-year-old sister, who he was walking to the bus stop when he was hit, has suffered from nightmares and anxiety attacks since seeing her brother nearly killed.
Despite the extent of Welfred's injuries, police said they could only charge Gardner with reckless driving under state law.
A statement released by the Greenville Police Department after the 56-year-old was officially charged alludes to the frustration investigators felt about their inability to bring additional charges.
“We’ve heard from many people who are confused and upset that the charges are not more severe than reckless driving, especially considering that a child was critically injured as a result of Gardner's unnecessary aggressive driving," Lt. Alan Johnson wrote. "The reality is that as police officers, we are bound to enforce the laws on the books based on the current circumstances. That means that, unfortunately, we do not have any discretion to enhance the charges in this instance."
Gap in the law
Pracht said Welfred's family plans to file a lawsuit against Gardner aimed at helping with the rising costs of his treatment, but it remains uncertain how much they could get in damages if it's successful. In the past two weeks alone, they have accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to the hospital before insurance.
"Number one, they're worried about how this is going to impact Welfred," Pracht said. "But number two, how it's going to affect their daily lives, and their ability to provide for their family, their children. Because they have two other kids."
In addition to fears of what the future holds for their son and the rest of their family, Pracht said Welfred's parents are disheartened Gardner does not face a more severe penalty.
"They are not mad at the police and they think the Greenville Police Department has done a good job," Pracht said. "... But they are, as I think any parent would be, frustrated that there is a gap in the law."
It's a frustration shared by some state lawmakers, who have seen similar events unfold around the state.
"Right now, there is a hole in our laws," said state Sen. Shane Massey, of Aiken.
Since 2013, Massey has filed a bill every session that would create a separate charge for reckless driving resulting in great bodily injury. And every year, the bill has failed to make it to a vote.
He first submitted the legislation, which would also increase the punishment for reckless vehicular homicide, after a man in his district walked away with a traffic ticket after killing a woman when he ran a stop sign going 70 mph in a 30 mph zone, he said.
"Her family was frustrated, the community was frustrated, law enforcement was frustrated, and the Solicitor's Office was frustrated," he said. "... And with lack of progress on this bill, it's particularly frustrating because this is a statewide issue and obviously a problem."
State Sen. Paul Campbell, of Berkeley, also filed a bill this year that would create stricter laws around reckless driving. His came after police ticketed a man who hit a woman in Summerville while talking on his cell phone — saddling her with lifelong injuries and medical bills.
Learning what happened to Welfred has reaffirmed his conviction that state law needs to be changed, he said.
"We need a more aggressive charge against that person," he said. "He walks away scot-free, essentially, and this young man is going to deal with it the rest of his life."
Attempts to reach Gardner by telephone and at his home for comment were unsuccessful.
Thomason and Pracht, LLP
Attorney - Christopher Pracht
Attorney - Nancy Jo Thomason