Sister of woman killed in DUI crash hopes for justice

Eleanor, known to her friends and family as “Ellie” Caperton, was killed in July 2011. She loved vacationing.

Phyllis Savenkoff still lies awake many Saturday nights. She stares at her clock, and when it strikes midnight, she remembers where her late sister was at that time of night on July 23, 2011.

“It keeps playing over and over and over in my head,” she said.

That night, her sister, 72-year-old Eleanor Caperton, was killed by a drunken driver when he smashed into her car as she was heading home from work on Interstate 26.

Savenkoff can’t stop thinking about her sister’s final moments, even more now as she prepares to attend the sentencing hearing for the man whose actions led to Caperton’s death.

Samuel McCauley, 20, of Mount Pleasant, pleaded guilty to a felony DUI charge in May. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Friday in a Charleston County court.

A cloud of worry has been hovering over Savenkoff as the date approaches, she said.

“I don’t feel like he’s going to get much time,” Savenkoff said.

Savenkoff’s fear stems from the sympathy Savenkoff believes many people feel toward McCauley, who has no prior criminal record and reportedly begged a police officer to kill him after learning about Caperton’s death. “It was all theatrics,” Savenkoff said.

The 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office is handling the case. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the prosecutor on the case can’t comment before the sentencing takes place.

McCauley denied a request for an interview. His attorney, Capers Barr, also declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate and unethical for him to comment publicly on the case before McCauley is sentenced by a judge.

During his plea hearing last year, Barr said: “The tragedy of this case is indeed shared by two families.”

Savenkoff does not believe McCauley’s apology during that plea hearing was sincere. “If I have to hear one more time, them [his attorneys] building him up, I’m going to throw up,” she said. “Every time he gets up there it’s the same story. He went to boarding school; he just made a mistake.”

Savenkoff would like to see McCauley sentenced to 15 years in prison. The maximum penalty for the crime is 25 years in prison. “I just want to see justice done,” she said.

Caperton, a mother and grandmother, didn’t deserve to die that way, said Savenkoff. Caperton, known as “Ellie” by friends and family, worked as a bank teller in Hanahan for more than 50 years. “My sister was 72, but she loved life. She loved to travel, she loved her friends,” she said.

McCauley crashed into Caperton on I-26 near the Septima Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown. McCauley was driving the wrong way on the interstate when his car slammed head-on into Caperton’s. She was on her way home to Ladson from her part-time job as a security guard.

McCauley had been driving 60 mph the wrong way on an on-ramp with a speed limit of 30 mph, according to prosecutors. His blood-alcohol level was also more than two times the legal limit.

Rescue workers took them both to Medical University Hospital, where Caperton died and McCauley was arrested. McCauley reportedly asked an officer in the emergency room to kill him. “I’m 19. I drank too much. And I killed someone,” he said, according to lawyers for both sides.

McCauley had just graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville two months before the crash, Barr has said.

McCauley and four friends gathered on a sailboat belonging to one teen’s mother at Dolphin Cove Marina in the Neck Area on the night of the accident, Barr has also said.

McCauley’s apparent remorse doesn’t change anything for Savenkoff, who said her sister’s words during their last face-to-face conversation still resonate.

“One of the last things she told me ... she said ‘I hope I live long enough to see my grandkids grow up,’ ” Savenkoff said.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.

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