A hit-and-run charge against an Alabama man has been elevated after the death of one of seven people he’s accused of hitting with his van during a scuffle outside a North Charleston-area nightclub.
Jorge Luis Martinez, 23, of Preakness Drive in North Charleston, died Monday of the injuries he suffered in the Dec. 15 incident, according to the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office. He was described in his obituary as an assistant to an auto mechanic.
The man said to have been driving the vehicle that hit Martinez, 22-year-old Alvaro Zuniga-Rivas, now faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death. The felony carries up to 25 years in prison.
Zuniga-Rivas also faces two counts of leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, also a felony. Each charge is punishable with up to 10 years in prison.
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Sam Richardson said three of the people struck were seriously hurt, resulting in the three hit-and-run charges. Investigators have not ruled out more serious counts, he said.
An incident report indicates that Zuniga-Rivas had been drinking that evening, but Richardson declined to discuss any toxicology testing done on the suspect.
“We are still looking into it,” Richardson said Thursday. “We acted in the name of justice and chose a charge that we think is appropriate.”
Witnesses said a fight involving several people broke out after 2 a.m. in the parking lot of Brindis Discotheque and Bar at 3630 Ashley Phosphate Road.
A bouncer, 28-year-old Thaddeus Elias Simmons of North Charleston, told deputies that he went outside to calm everyone when he saw two men climbing into a white Ford van with an Alabama license plate and ladders on top. Both were drunk, he added.
The van backed up, then its driver threw the transmission into drive, witnesses said. It accelerated without braking, hit the bouncer’s leg then struck six other people, according to the report.
When they arrived, responding deputies found two people lying near a tan car, a woman resting in the parking lot and man motionless near a storm drain.
Later, at Medical University Hospital, doctors reported that three of the victims were so badly hurt that they could not speak with investigators.
The report identifies only four other victims: Luis Miguel Orozco-Marquez, 19, of Summerville; Mirza Renteria, 23, of Goose Creek; Justin McKnight, 24, of North Charleston; and Moses Porras, 23, of James Island.
The seventh victim’s name was not known. The report indicates that some of those involved had left the scene quickly.
Deputies found a similar van near 8507 Purcell Drive, about 3 miles from the bar. They also reported seeing four men inside a nearby apartment that was supposed to be vacant.
The report labels the men as squatters.
Two of them, including Zuniga-Rivas, were handcuffed. One of the men, the deputies reported, put up a brief struggle.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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