Guilty plea in fatal DUI crash

Baliffs lead Samuel McCauley (center) our of court Monday after he pleaded guilty in the felony DUI death of 72-year-old Eleanor Capterton in July of 2011. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com)

Not yet old enough to legally drink, 19-year-old Samuel McCauley begged a police officer to kill him after learning that his drunken driving had killed someone else.

He pleaded guilty to the charges against him Monday in circuit court and asked to be locked up while awaiting his sentence.

McCauley, now 20, spoke to 72-year-old Eleanor Caperton’s family after making his plea.

He turned away from the judge and microphone to look them in the eyes. People on both sides of the packed courtroom cried.

“No one deserves to die the way I killed Eleanor Caperton,” McCauley said. “I wish it was me that had died that night, but I can’t change what happened. ... I am and will forever be sorry.”

McCauley drove the wrong way on Interstate 26 near the Crosstown and slammed into Caperton head-on July 24, as she headed home to Ladson after a night shift as a security guard.

Caperton, a mother and grandmother who still worked and traveled, died at Medical University Hospital.

McCauley had just graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville two months earlier, according to his lawyer, Capers Barr. Barr said McCauley and four friends gathered on a sailboat belonging to one teen’s mother at Dolphin Cove Marina in the Neck Area the night of the accident.

The group first hung out at a restaurant and agreed not to drive or to wander onto the boat’s deck alone, according to Barr. Barr said McCauley sprinted away, but a friend brought him back.

Then, according to Barr, McCauley dashed off again.

“Sam’s last conscious memory was walking back to that boat,” Barr said. “His next conscious memory was coming awake in a hospital room and being told he’d been in an accident and a woman had been killed.”

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.

When McCauley’s Nissan Maxima collided with Caperton’s Honda Civic, the impact broke her legs and 19 ribs, while causing trauma to her chest and hemorrhaging in her brain, according to Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Kinzeler. She said investigators determined that McCauley had been driving 60 mph the wrong way on an on-ramp with a speed limit of 30 mph.

The teen’s blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit for a 21-year-old adult by 21/2 times, according to Kinzeler. An officer handcuffed him to his hospital bed when he tried to strangle himself with the officer’s hands, after learning about Caperton.

Known by friends as Ellie, Caperton worked as a bank teller at First Citizens Bank in Hanahan for more than 50 years and worked security on the weekends. She loved taking cruises and occasionally gambling at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in North Carolina.

One of her relatives flashed a photograph of the smiling grandmother — two parrots on her shoulders and a third on her head — across the aisle at the crowd of supporters gathered for McCauley.

McCauley planned to take a year off from school before starting college.

He intended to help his mother, a court reporter, deliver transcripts that summer, while working two other part-time jobs.

He had no prior criminal record and faces as much as 35 years in prison in the case.

“The tragedy of this case is indeed shared by two families,” his attorney said.

Although he could remain free until his sentencing, deputies took McCauley to jail after the hearing, at his request.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ allysonjbird.