Mount Pleasant - A 23-year-old man was killed Monday night when his vehicle crashed into some rocks that had been dumped at the end of a road in preparation for new homes to be built there.
The next day, residents of a nearby community wondered whether the driver could have survived if the rocks had not been there.
After the wreck on Seacoast Parkway, the sport-utility vehicle burst into flames. Police officers found a burned body inside.
The Charleston County Coroner's Office identified him as Ernest Bacon, 23, of Mount Pleasant. He died of blunt trauma at the scene, Deputy Coroner Kimberly Rhoton said.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department on Tuesday was still investigating what caused the wreck, Inspector Chip Googe said. But residents of the Grassy Creek neighborhood said the rocks already had been a cause for concern in the week they had been there.
They were dumped in front of four red reflectors and a sign bearing an arrow signaling a right turn where Seacoast Parkway becomes Shoals Drive. Despite the rocks, the signs were still visible for motorists during daylight Tuesday, though community resident Tim Brennan said he had not been able to see them before the crash.
"Without the rocks, the person may have ended up in the woods, as several have in the past," Brennan said, mentioning other wrecks. "But at least, they'd have a better shot at being alive."
Developer D.R. Horton planned to build 119 houses at the end of Seacoast Parkway, and a worker at the crash site Tuesday said the rocks were to be used for erosion control. They had not been blocking motorists' view of the signs, he said.
Officers estimated that the rocks, which measured up to 6 inches wide, were piled about 5 feet high after the wreck, but it wasn't immediately known if the crash had reduced that height. Also unknown is whether the rocks would have blocked headlights from illuminating the reflective signs.
Jefferson Bates of The Bay Co., a North Charleston subcontractor that put the rocks there, declined to comment or to provide photographs taken before the crash.
Seacoast Parkway parallels Interstate 526 near Long Point Road, and Shoals Drive serves as the entrance to Grassy Creek.
A sign warns drivers of a turn 500 feet ahead where the roads intersect. Motorists on Shoals Drive have a stop sign; those on the parkway do not.
No signs indicating a speed limit were posted Tuesday on the westbound side of the parkway.
The SUV was heading in that direction around 9:45 p.m. Monday when it hit the rock piles with considerable force. No skid marks indicated that its driver had braked.
The vehicle took out some of the reflective signs and stopped about 10 feet behind the rocks. The impact hurled the stones 100 to 150 feet forward, the police estimated, though investigators have not said whether speed played a role.
A man returning to his Grassy Creek home happened upon the burning SUV and called 911.
"There could be people inside," he told a dispatcher. "This thing could explode."
When the first officer showed up, the SUV's front portion was engulfed in flames. Its doors were too hot to touch, so he tried to break its windows with his baton and with the rocks. But the windows were too strong, and their tint was too dark for the officer to see if anyone was inside, he reported.
Fearing an explosion, the officer and the 911 caller eventually retreated. Crews from the Mount Pleasant Fire Department extinguished the flames.
The morning after the wreck, oil and soot covered the grass where the SUV had burned. Pieces of plastic from the vehicle mixed with the rocks.
Workers from Sanders Bros. Construction Co. parked pickup trucks near the site. A man moved some of the rocks with a small front-end loader.
Investigators did not immediately say Tuesday whether the piles had contributed to Bacon's death.
Brennan, the local resident, said he and his wife had figured before the crash that the rocks posed a danger. Crews dropped them off about a week ago, he said, and the reflectors had been installed months before that.
He was the third person to show up at the fiery scene Monday night, he said.
"Since it looked like my wife's car, I was very afraid when I came upon it and saw the flames," Brennan said about his thoughts before learning that his wife was not involved. "That being said, I hope someone asks some questions about how this happened."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
A sign signals the end of Seacoast Parkway near the Grassy Creek community in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, a day after a sport utility vehicle crashed into the rocks that contractors dumped there in preparation for the construction of a new community. One person died in the fiery wreck.×
Piles of rocks rest in front of reflectors signaling the end of Seacoast Parkway near the Grassy Creek community in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, a day after a sport utility vehicle crashed into the rocks that contractors dumped there in preparation for the construction of a new community. One person died in the fiery wreck.×
A vehicle approaches a turn where Seacoast Parkway becomes Shoals Drive near the Grassy Creek community in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, a day after a sport utility vehicle crashed into the piles of rocks that contractors dumped at the end of Seacoast Parkway in preparation for the construction of a new community. One person died in the fiery wreck.×