Authorities won't know for at least another month what killed a Wando woman found dead last week in the Berkeley County woods, leaving those who knew her to question the events surrounding her death.
According to investigators, 52-year-old Laura Marie Lynch was a passenger in a Dodge Charger that wrecked May 1 while evading police in a chase through Mount Pleasant.
Her body was found several days later off Green Bay Road, roughly 200 yards from the wreckage.
Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said foul play was not suspected in her death. However, an official cause of death will not be released until toxicology tests are completed in six to eight weeks, he said.
The vehicle's driver, 42-year-old Michael Anthony Browder, of Hunt Drive, eluded capture for days before he was picked up by police May 4 at a North Charleston motel.
Mount Pleasant police charged him with failure to stop for blue lights, habitual traffic offender, third-offense driving under suspension, unlawful transport of alcohol and four counts of failure to appear for a traffic citation, State Law Enforcement Division records said.
It remains unclear how Lynch and Browder knew each other. Lynch's family members declined a request for comment.
Teresa Taylor, 51, who's lived near Browder for 14 years, said the pair had known each other for awhile, though she didn't know to what extent.
Taylor said she heard from Lynch's family members that she sought a ride to the store from Browder the day of the wreck.
The vehicle they were in caught the eye of police as they traveled south on U.S. Highway 17.
Browder drastically slowed the car as he approached a police cruiser around 10:20 a.m. that day, according to police.
The apparent rental had New Jersey license plates and a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, an incident report said.
The driver's nerves began to show when the officer pulled up next to the car to get a better look at its occupants.
Browder gripped the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles turned white, police said. He and Lynch lit a pair of cigarettes and took a few quick drags shortly before the pursuit began.
Authorities briefly lost sight of the vehicle as it approached speeds in excess of 130 mph, police said.
The chase begins
Sheriff's deputies responded as the chase entered Berkeley County.
Investigators found the vehicle wrecked and abandoned off Green Bay Road. Authorities indicated that the pair had run from the scene.
According to Taylor, Browder ran to her home after crashing the car. He was covered in mud and his clothes were soaking wet, she told police. Her husband kicked Browder out after he alleged that he had $1,000 worth of drugs on him, according to the incident report.
Taylor said she didn't know that Lynch had been with Browder until the woman's family began searching for her.
"I don't think (investigators) were really looking for her at first. They were back there talking and having a good ole time," Taylor said. "(The family) called the news people and they called the police and no one wanted to listen to them at first. This lady laid in the woods for five days. She shouldn't of had to lay out there for five days."
Taylor said she could only speculate as to what could have caused Lynch's death but that "there's no doubt in my mind, if she wasn't with (Browder), she'd be alive today."
A missing woman
Salisbury, who also heads the Berkeley County Rescue Squad, said his crews weren't asked to join the search for Lynch until 3 p.m. on May 4.
"We immediately responded and the Rescue Squad worked until dark that Sunday," Salisbury said, adding that the team searched the area on horseback, by air and with cadaver dogs. Crews returned the following day and found Lynch's body around 10 a.m.
Berkeley County sheriff's Maj. Rick Ollic said authorities had searched the surrounding area with K-9s the day of the wreck, but failed to locate anyone. Lynch's niece reported her missing the following day, he said.
Sheriff's deputies investigated several conflicting stories regarding Lynch's disappearance, including a report that the missing woman was seen walking down Halfway Creek Road after the wreck. Mount Pleasant police had also been told that Lynch was headed to Georgia with Browder and a group of other people, sheriff's deputies said.
According to Ollic, Browder initially gave misleading answers when questioned by investigators following his arrest on May 4. Eventually, Browder indicated that the last place he saw Lynch was in the woods, Ollic said, prompting search crews to return to the scene.
A history of crime
Browder has an extensive criminal history with convictions as far back as 1992. He was sentenced that year to four years probation for second-degree burglary, Charleston County Court records show.
More recently, Browder pleaded guilty in 2009 to assault and battery with intent to kill and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, according to Charleston County court records.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Browder has an attorney.
Lynch was out on $5,000 bail on a charge of possession of cocaine base when she died, Berkeley County court records show.
An obituary for Lynch described her as a mother who "loved her family, and enjoyed gardening and caring for her cats."
Lynch was survived by her son, daughter, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the obituary said.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.