Ridgeville couple fight for lives after car slammed by suspected robbers
RIDGEVILLE -- To Lee Paul Cummings, it seemed like all his sister and her husband did was work.
Lois Campbell, 57, cleans at the local elementary school. When she’s not there, she’s helping elderly people with their housekeeping or running errands.
Her husband, 55-year-old Julius Campbell, has worked more than two decades at Oscar’s restaurant in Summerville, where his fried chicken, chipotle barbecue meatloaf and banana pudding are locally famous. People know him as “Doc.”
If there were eight days in a week, they would work each one, Cummings said.
On Monday, both were calling it a day when two men suspected of robbing a bank at gunpoint disrupted their lives.
The suspects’ car struck the Campbells’ sport-utility vehicle as it turned onto Campbell Road, sending it hurtling into the trees off S.C. Highway 61. Police said the car was going 100 mph as the two young felons inside tried to get away from the authorities more than a mile behind them.
“Police have their job to do, and they were doing it,” Cummings, 58, said Wednesday. “Suspects try to get away, and that’s how innocent people get hurt.”
The Campbells fought for their lives at Medical University Hospital as they underwent surgery Wednesday morning. Both were in critical condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Heather Woolwine, as troopers from the S.C. Highway Patrol returned to the crash site and reconstructed the collision.
Cummings said his brother-in-law had a head injury and was on life support. Both have broken bones.
The duo implicated in the wreck, 23-year-old Tyrone Darius Ellison and 27-year-old Ronald Lamont Lance, fled the crash on foot but were caught early Tuesday after residents of a nearby neighborhood encountered them.
Along with accused getaway driver Christopher Nehemiah Coburn, 29, they each face a charge of entering a financial institution with the intent to steal in the heist before 5 p.m. at a SunTrust Bank in North Charleston. North Charleston police on Wednesday said they also linked Ellison to a robbery at the same bank April 1.
Police spokesman Spencer Pryor said the department was reviewing the pursuit that led to the wreck to make sure that officers complied with policy.
No city police officers or deputies from the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office could see the suspects’ car when it crashed, agency officials said.
“That car was going through red lights without even coming off the gas,” sheriff’s Lt. Tony Phinney said. “We just don’t do that. It’s not safe.”
The ordeal began at the SunTrust branch at 8610 Dorchester Road when two men in disguises entered just before closing time. One flashed a handgun and ordered employees to the ground as both suspects grabbed money and stuffed it into a bag, a police report stated.
After they left, a worker told 911 dispatchers that they left in a white Hyundai. A third man was driving the car.
Hidden in the stacks of cash was an electronic tracking device. Within minutes, police used it to find the Hyundai on Ballantine Drive in the Wescott subdivision.
The tracking device wasn’t in the car anymore. The robbers had thrown it through a window. It landed in the road, along with the stack of cash that was concealing it.
When officers pulled behind the car, it didn’t pull over at first. It traveled through the neighborhood at 38 mph until stopping at Ballantine and Parlor drives.
That’s where two men pushed Coburn out of the Hyundai, police said. Ellison and Lance were unhappy with his driving, authorities said, and Coburn later told detectives about the others’ roles in the robbery.
The Hyundai continued north on Dorchester Road, hitting 70 mph and running red lights without braking. Cars screeched to a halt to avoid collisions, and on U.S. Highway 17A, it hit 100 mph.
A deputy with a police dog became the primary pursuer when the Hyundai raced past in the opposite direction. But the deputy quickly fell behind.
“The vehicle got so far out in front,” said Phinney, the sheriff’s lieutenant. “(The deputy) couldn’t catch up.”
Deputies lost sight of the Hyundai south of the intersection of highways 17A and 61. They didn’t know which of the roads the Hyundai had chosen.
That’s when deputies in the area went into “locate mode,” Phinney said. They no longer were hotly pursuing the suspected robbers.
A detective in an unmarked car spotted the Hyundai again near Highway 61 and Givhans Road. Seconds later, Phinney said, the detective radioed that the Hyundai had been in a “major accident.”
The Campbells, who live a few miles down Campbell Road, were turning left onto the road when the Hyundai hit their Honda CRV on the left side.
The Honda bounced off the road but stayed upright. The Hyundai spun down Highway 61 and went off the opposite side.
When a deputy arrived, Phinney said his first task was to help the Campbells. The deputy saw a man climb out of the Hyundai farther down the road and scamper into the woods. Because the suspects were armed and had disappeared into the forest, the deputy didn’t run after them.
Police dogs later arrived and tried to track the duo down. They found cash littered through the woods.
Both were arrested the next morning after they asked some people on Campbell Road for help.
Ellison and Coburn both have convictions for assault and battery with intent to kill, as well as marijuana possession. Lance has a less violent past, but he has been imprisoned for grand larceny and crack-cocaine possession.
John Limehouse, 59, of Ridgeville, shook his head as he learned of the suspects’ criminal pasts and watched troopers measure the crash site Wednesday. He often saw the couple at the nearby Givhans Stop and Shop. Lois Campbell’s mother helped raise Limehouse, he said.
“Those fools are guilty party because they didn’t pull over,” Limehouse said. “Lois and Julius weren’t at fault. They were just on their way home.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.