A Conway man was sentenced to 20 years in jail Wednesday after a jury found him guilty of felony driving under the influence with death, but innocent of leaving the scene of an accident.
When a S.C. Department of Natural Resources officer saw a crowd fighting in front of the Circle K on S.C. 544 near The Coop bar he stopped to break up the fight.
But he found a much bigger problem. Coastal Carolina University student Ryan Bielawa had been hit by a car driven by Edward Lee Washington, 33, and was lying in a patch of grass in front of the convenience store.
He was seriously injured and died at the scene in the very early morning hours of Oct. 29, 2016.
Daniel Baker, who was in the area helping deal with problems caused by Hurricane Matthew took Conwayite Washington to the ground, handcuffed him and put him in his truck to protect him from the crowd that had gathered.
Baker said there was a rather large crowd gathered at the scene and Washington was actively swinging and punching people.
Olivia Malle dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief repeatedly as she recalled the events of that night when many Coastal Carolina students were celebrating Halloween.
She said she and Bielawa had been walking and talking when they decided to cross S.C. 544 and go to the Coop bar. She said the Coop was too busy for them, so they stayed only a little while before deciding to go back across the street. She went about 100 to 200 yards down S.C. 544 to a student crosswalk, but Bielawa headed across the street where he was.
Malle testified Tuesday that she didn’t actually see Bielawa hit. She saw a shoe fly and a shadow of his body.
She ran up the street and got to her friend. Someone was already there trying to deal with his injuries by wrapping him up.
Kelcee Cramer, who lived right across the street at the time, said she was headed to the gas station with two friends when she saw the car hit Bielawa and she was able to identify the car that hit him. She testified that she saw a large group of people standing on the Monarch side of the road and saw the car coming. She said Washington’s car was far back, but it quickly came close.
She saw Bielawa go straight up, about 25 to 30 feet in the air, and then hit the ground. She said he fell pretty close to her. She immediately called 911 and stayed at the site.
She testified that Washington didn’t stop or even press his brakes. However, he came back in about five to seven minutes when she said he was obviously “drunk or something.”
She said he started a ruckus or a fight without anyone knowing who he was.
Julian Frazier, who knew Washington from his high school days, said he was at the Circle K when he heard the collision.
He said he turned around and saw people running across the street and a few minutes later he saw the car come back.
He said one girl there kept saying, “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
He said he recognized Washington and noticed that his eyes were red.
Frazier said he told Washington, “Dude, you hit somebody over there.”
Steven McLaughlin-Carneiro, who along with other jobs works at times as a substitute teacher, said he was working that night at a second Circle K, about two to two and one-half miles away.
He went to the Circle K where Bielawa was to pick up some needed supplies. When he started back out of the parking lot he heard a loud noise and saw lots of people running toward and surrounding something on the ground. He first thought the noise he heard was a gunshot.
That’s when he saw Bielawa lying on the side of the road in a ditch. He ran inside to get scissors so people could make bandages, and he, too, called 911.
He said Washington came up then, saying, ”Who threw that bottle at me. Who threw it? Who threw it?”
He said Washington’s car had a broken windshield, but people weren’t paying too much attention to him; they were just pushing him away.
He testified that as he was coming out of the store, Washington was “winding up for a big punch and he punched me right in the jaw.” McLaughlin-Carneiro said Washington was behaving angrily and cursed as he asked who threw the bottle.
Conway police detective Joshua Scott said there was glass in the front and back seats of Washington’s car, and he saw blood on the car. He said one person at the scene estimated that Washington had been traveling about 70mph when the collision happened.
He said Bielawa was dead when he got there, and he took Washington to Conway Medical Center because his ankle was injured.
Conway police officer Glen Guyett said he didn’t give Washington field sobriety tests because he didn’t think he could complete them due to his ankle injury.
In recorded comments to Guyett at the hospital, Washington said, “I’m just sorry…I didn’t mean to…I know I was in an accident. I really don’t know what the (expletive deleted) is going on.”
He also asked about Bielawa, wanting to know if he was dead or seriously injured.
“They say the man is seriously hurt. I’m just concerned about that man. I’m sorry man…Please tell me he’s all right.”
He again said that when he passed the store there was a bottle thrown through his windshield.
“I know I didn’t hit nobody,” he said.
Later saying, “I turned around and went back at the store to ask who threw the bottle because I know somebody threw a bottle.”
He said he had been drinking beer.
“If I did hit somebody, I’m sorry,” he said.
Corporal Tyler Luther with the S.C. Highway Patrol’s MAIT (Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team) unit estimated the speed of the vehicle to be at least 50mph.
Sgt. Jeremy Leach, also with MAIT, said the impact threw Bielawa about 85 feet from the point of impact to his final resting place.
Holford walked all the way to the back of the large courtroom, saying that was about 20 paces, to estimate the distance for the jury. Leach said it was even a bit farther away than that.
Leach testified that the unit’s calculations also estimated that the victim was traveling between 34 to 42 miles per hour after impact.
Washington’s car is shown passing by the gas station in a video supplied by the Circle K. Leach said he thought Washington’s car was going significantly faster than the one before it in the video, possibly over the speed limit.
Stanko argued that the previous car could have been traveling far under the speed limit.
Rachel Nguyen, a toxicology technician with the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) testified that she ran tests on Washington’s blood for alcohol content, which came back at 0.2443. Lindsay Mitchell, SLED forensic scientist, confirmed that when they receive a positive result, the sample is tested again and the average of the two becomes the reported figure.
That figure was 0.2349, barely under three times the legal limit.
Mitchell testified that depending on the weight and gender of a person, that’s about 11 drinks. She also said that with standard-size drinks, a level of 0.4 would be considered a fatal amount, with 0.3 possibly rendering someone comatose.
Even though Bielawa was not in the crosswalk, Guyett said it is the driver’s responsibility to be aware of his surroundings. He also said he didn’t think the collision was intentional, that Washington wasn’t aiming at the victim.
He said Washington was driving with a suspended license, and he believed him to be intoxicated.
In cross-examination, Guyett said it was dark and he thought there was “maybe a fair” chance that he didn’t see the victim.
In her opening argument, Cara Walker, who is trying the case with Josh Holford, said CCU students were celebrating Halloween that night. She said Bielawa and his friends were over in the Coastal Carolina University area, “doing what teenagers do.”
She said a crowd gathered around Bielawa, but Washington didn’t press or slam on his brakes, get out of his car or call 911.
“He kept on speeding up 544,” she said.
When he did come back, she said he was belligerent and combative and cursing one of the witnesses in the case.
Defense attorney Jim Stanko said Washington actually went only about three and one-half or four minutes before he pulled into an apartment parking lot, looked at his car and realized something had happened.
“As soon as he realized what had happened, he turned around and came back,” he said.
Horry Independent report Katie Powell contributed to this story.