Just after his tractor-trailer crushed a car on an Interstate 526 overpass, Arnold Bradford Williams was seen walking outside his cab, witnesses told the police Monday.
They told them he was tossing beer cans onto the pavement 20 feet below. Police officers found and collected the cans.
At first, Williams was booked into jail on a felony DUI charge in connection with the six-vehicle wreck that killed 27-year-old Lauren Elyse Baccari. But the count was changed to reckless homicide “upon further review of the incident,” North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.
Amid a mangled heap of metal that once was an Acura, the witnesses also reported seeing a driver. She was dead and unrecognizable, but on her finger was a symbol of her newlywed status: a ring.
Baccari, a student at the Medical University of South Carolina, was identified Tuesday as the woman who died instantly in the wreck around noon Monday.
Williams, meanwhile, was behind bars. Police said the 35-year-old resident of Latta was driving too fast when he came upon a traffic jam created by a fuel spill two miles down the road. His 18-wheeler skidded along the road, then plowed into Baccari’s 2005 Acura, which was one of many vehicles stopped at the Rivers Avenue interchange.
It was the second fatal crash in 24 hours on eastbound I-526 that ended with a motorist’s felony arrest. Lisa Pistolis, 25, of Hanahan was jailed Sunday on a count of driving under the influence with death in a crash that killed a 35-year-old Charleston man.
As Williams’ bail was set Tuesday at $100,000, Baccari’s family gathered at a funeral home. Spally Taylor, a victim advocate for the North Charleston Police Department, said during a bond hearing that Baccari’s body was so badly injured that loved ones will never be able to see her again.
Witnesses at the scene said that amid the mangled wreckage of Baccari’s Acura, they noticed a ring adorning her finger.
“They’re newly wed,” Taylor said about Baccari and her husband, Gregory Vincent Baccari. “This is just a difficult time for them.”
The first wreck was reported about 8 a.m. Monday on eastbound I-526 at Virginia Avenue. Crews had just cleaned up spilled fuel around noon and reopened the road to traffic.
But Baccari and others were still caught in the congestion when Williams’ tractor-trailer approached. Without specifying his speed, an arrest affidavit stated that he was going too fast for the conditions when his truck hit three vehicles, causing a chain reaction.
Baccari’s car was pinned under the truck and rendered unrecognizable. Three other people were hospitalized, including one who suffered a broken nose and other bone fractures.
The S.C. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that electronic signs on Interstate 26 had been flashing warnings about the earlier crash on I-526 and about the slowed or stopped traffic. James Law, a local DOT spokesman, said trucks with a flashing arrow also were dispatched to I-526.
But he could not immediately say where the signs were placed or when they left.
“We always post signs to warn people,” Law said.
Loved ones of Williams’ gathered in a courtroom Tuesday and pleaded with a magistrate for a chance to bail him out of jail.
One them said she had been with Williams for 15 years and was now his fiancee.
Another, the Rev. Larry Williams, said his nephew drives a truck in the Charleston area during the week, then returns to his family in Latta on the weekends.
Larry Williams said he visited his nephew in the jail, and they prayed for Baccari’s family.
“All I’ve ever known is that he tried to feed his family,” Larry Williams said. “This has clearly been an accident. ... He’s never been in any trouble. He’s a good person.”
Though Monday’s arrest was Williams’ first in South Carolina, Magistrate Linda Lombard said he had accumulated traffic tickets. He has been cited at least once for having an open container of beer and once for improper passing, court records show. He also has at least 10 tickets for failing to wear a seat belt.
But it was what the police said led to Monday’s fatal wreck that prompted the magistrate to set a high bail.
“There’s a history of speeding,” Lombard said. “It’s sad it has to end this way.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.