All was calm after two cars crashed Saturday morning on Ashley Phosphate Road in North Charleston.
“No one’s hurt,” a 911 caller told a dispatcher. “It was just a T-bone.”
Police officers and firefighters arrived to make sure no one was seriously injured. They intended to direct the removal of a disabled car from the traffic lanes.
Then, young women screamed. Some cried. Police officers yelled.
“We need more units!” a police officer barked into his radio. “Send another EMS. We have another wreck! One firefighter down! Two females down!”
Fifteen minutes after the first collision, the police said a drunken man in a Honda tried to avoid a firetruck meant to protect first-responders by veering into oncoming traffic lanes. The man didn’t have a driver’s license, insurance or documents indicating that he was in the country legally.
His Honda hit two firefighters, three 18-year-old women and one girl. Three people were seriously injured, including Darin Kingery, a 12-year veteran of the North Charleston Fire Department.
Police communications, video and a report released Monday revealed new details about the wreck that prompted the arrest of 26-year-old Felix Garcia-Romero of Hawthorne Drive.
He faces three counts of felony driving under the influence. Experts sampled his blood, but the police did not indicate any test results.
Garcia-Romero remained behind bars Monday in lieu of $300,000 bail. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also asked that he be held at the jail as the agency investigated his legal status.
It was Garcia-Romero’s first arrest in South Carolina.
An attempt to contact his family was unsuccessful. Two hard hats, a pair of work boots, three carpenter levels, tubes of caulking and 5-gallon buckets sat on the front porch of his mobile home.
Kingery, the fire engineer, remained in intensive care Monday after suffering several broken bones, department spokeswoman Bianca Sancic said. Firefighter Joshua Sader, who has been on the job for six months, was treated for minor injuries that day and later returned to work.
Conditions of the other four victims were not immediately known. At least one suffered a broken leg. The 18-year-olds were identified as Areriel Hayward of North Charleston, Abagail Wedlake of Mount Pleasant and Shateia Ellis of North Charleston.
Authorities responded to the first wreck between a Mazda 626 and a Chevrolet Impala at 1:44 a.m. near the Plantation Road intersection.
The Chevrolet blocked two lanes and part of the third.
An airbag had deployed in one car, and one person was complaining of arm pain. But the crash was minor.
“Everybody’s out and about,” a 911 caller said. “One lady is sleeping in the back.”
Fire crews placed a truck in a “defensive” position to help protect themselves, the police and motorists, the department spokesman said. They also wore reflective vests, a protocol to prevent a second crash, Sancic said.
But soon after, Garcia-Romero’s black Honda left the northbound lanes and plowed into the disabled Chevrolet and the people standing next to it.
The police scrambled to block traffic altogether and prevent further mayhem.
“We need everyone to just shut down Ashley Phosphate,” an officer radioed to others. “We need both ways shut down for safety.”
Officers quickly suspected that Garcia-Romero had been drinking.
A video from a police cruiser shows officers pulling him from the Honda. He smelled of alcohol, and his eyes were red, the police noted in an incident report.
Officer Jonathan Lawrence walked him in front of the cruiser’s camera, and Garcia-Romero stumbled. He fidgeted through the pockets of his jeans.
“How much have you had to drink?” Lawrence said.
“Two beer,” Garcia-Romero said.
“Two beers?” Lawrence said.
Thirty-eight seconds after Garcia-Romero got out of his car, Lawrence cuffed his hands and read him his rights. Again losing his balance, Garcia-Romero leaned back on the officer as he was being handcuffed.
He sat down in the back of the patrol car as the crash victims continued to scream and cry, the video shows.
He mumbled words in Spanish and vomited on himself.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.