First of three crashes on Interstate 526 involved suspect with DUI charge in past
After his Jeep tumbled and came to a stop Sunday, a 35-year-old Charleston man lay motionless on the side of Interstate 526.
Serjei Cahuantzi, a bartender at a downtown restaurant, would die within hours, and a 24-year-old woman would be jailed on charges that she was driving her Ford Mustang drunk when she caused the first wreck of a disastrous 24-hour stretch on I-526.
But for Lisa Pistolis, it wasn’t the first time alcohol has put her in legal trouble. And the resident of Gemstone Boulevard in Hanahan hasn’t been shy about expressing her affinity for the drink.
Photos posted on her Facebook page show her sipping from a straw stuck into a margarita glass that she shares with a friend. In wedding pictures, she holds a glass flute filled with a rose-colored liquid. Another photo shows two men holding her legs skyward as Pistolis drinks from a keg of beer.
But in February, a Charleston County deputy spotted her Ford Mustang speeding 17 mph over the limit near North Charleston. The deputy reported seeing Pistolis flicking a cigarette through the window before stopping her.
A report listed the Hooters employee’s blood-alcohol content at 0.12 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.
She was awaiting trial on the charge of driving under the influence when the police arrested her again Sunday afternoon. The police said she was drunk when she lost control of her car and struck Cahuantzi’s Jeep.
It was the first of three major wrecks on I-526 that claimed two lives, injured at least three people and closed the eastbound lanes for more than 13 hours Sunday and Monday.
About 8 a.m. Monday, a tractor-trailer was traveling too fast for conditions when it rear-ended another cargo truck near the Virginia Avenue interchange, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. One of the trucks leaked fuel onto the road, which required a lengthy cleanup by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Four hours later, the police had started waving traffic past that scene when the second crash happened 2 miles to the west.
On the Rivers Avenue overpass, another truck rear-ended a car stopped for the earlier wreck. The car was sandwiched between the truck and a van, killing its driver at the scene. The motorist was not immediately named.
Two other people were hurt in the noontime crash that involved six vehicles.
The two wrecks closed eastbound lanes for more than 10 hours Monday, sending motorists bound for Mount Pleasant onto alternate routes. That clogged roads such as U.S. Highway 17 over the Ravenel Bridge.
John Gethers was at a car wash near the Rivers Avenue interchange when he heard the sounds of the chain-reaction wreck Monday.
“There were three loud booms,” Gethers said. “There were too many crashes (Monday). I’m concerned for the families.”
The truck skidded for more than 20 feet and left black marks on the pavement before hitting a silver car, which was reduced to mangled metal.
It ended with damage to another tractor-trailer, a landscaping company’s van and two other small vehicles. Another car’s back end was seen crushed about 100 yards in front of the initial crash area.
Michelle Adams, co-owner of Liquid Box Inc., arrived at the scene Monday afternoon and learned that a driver involved in the wreck was unharmed. She said the employee was driving an empty tractor-trailer that was struck from behind by one of the smaller vehicles.
“He was just sitting in stopped traffic, and all of a sudden, he was shoved forward,” Adams said. “This traffic (Monday) was a nightmare already, and now this.”
The North Charleston Police Department investigated the wreck by taking photos from a firetruck’s ladder bucket and a sheriff’s helicopter. The road reopened after 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, Pistolis remained in jail in lieu of more than $73,000 in bail. She faces charges of felony DUI with death and felony DUI with great bodily injury.
The police said she was driving her Ford eastbound on I-526 when it drifted into the grassy median at Dorchester Road about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. She overcorrected, then hit Cahuantzi’s Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Cahuantzi, a bartender at Joe’s Pasta on King Street, later died. His passenger was hospitalized.
Pistolis and a passenger in her Ford were not seriously injured, the police said.
Pistolis had been driving that same car Feb. 12 when a deputy saw it going 62 mph in a 45 mph zone on U.S. Highway 78 near Rivers Avenue. The Ford passed the deputy’s cruiser as its driver discarded a cigarette through the window, a report stated.
Pistolis told the deputy that she had two beers that evening, according to the report, but a sobriety test indicated “a substantial level of impairment.”
She and her attorney, Joseph Condon, were expected to plead her case in front of a jury Feb. 13.Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.