The man who’s drunken driving led to a fatal crash on Interstate 26 two years ago was sentenced today to 15 years in prison.

Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston handed down the sentence after hearing about three hours of testimony. Samuel McCauley, 20, pleaded guilty in 2012 to felony DUI and reckless homicide, but his sentencing had been deferred.

Hughston gave him credit for the 267 days he’s already spent in jail. He will also have to conduct public service following his release.

“I wish I could have died instead of her,” McCauley said before he was sentenced. “I’ll be sorry forever.”

In front of a packed downtown courtroom, Hughston started hearing arguments and testimony about 10 a.m. McCauley faced up to 35 years in prison.

On July 23, 2011, McCauley drove the wrong way on Interstate 26 near the Crosstown Expressway and slammed his car head-on into Eleanor Caperton’s vehicle. Caperton, who was a 72-year-old grandmother, was on her way home to Ladson after working a night shift 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.

Caperton, known as “Ellie” by friends and family, worked as a bank teller in Hanahan for more than 50 years.

During testimony this morning, her sister, Phyllis Savenkoff, detailed the injuries Caperton suffered: neck trauma, broken ribs and cuts. She said Caperton was an organ donor but because of her injuries, they could not be transplanted.

Savenkoff said the crash’s aftermath has been unbearable, while Caperton’s son, Ronald Gray, testified that the wreck was a senseless and preventable act.

Prosecutors also showed the judge photos of Caperton and argued that even 19-year-olds without criminal histories should be held accountable for their actions.

McCauley’s attorney, Capers Barr, told the judge that 34 people had amassed in the courtroom to show support for his client. Barr read a letter from a professor at Trident Technical College, where McCauley attended while he was out on bail. The professor said that McCauley was a model student, according to the attorney.

Two months before the crash, McCauley graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, his attorney has said.

Psychological testing on McCauley indicated that he was genuinely remorseful, his attorney said.

Barr told the judge that according to a police report, when McCauley found out Caperton had died, he asked an officer to kill him. He was at the hospital at the time and tried to choke himself, Barr added. McCauley does not remember many parts of the night, according to Barr.

“Sam will never know. He will never be able to recall why he got into the car that night,” Barr said.

McCauley, who was 19 at the time, was drinking with friends aboard a sailboat parked at a Charleston marina, Barr said. His last memory before being hospitalized was being at the marina, his attorney said.

Read more in tomorrow’s edition of The Post and Courier.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or