The red Hyundai’s darkly tinted windows and out-of-state license plate caught Charleston Police Officer Cory Goldstein’s eye as he patrolled West Ashley this spring.
With Goldstein following in his marked cruiser, the rental car ran stop signs and cut through parking spaces outside the Citadel Mall, then a nearby Best Buy, according to court testimony.
After 10:30 p.m. March 30, Goldstein wondered what the driver was up to because the businesses were closed. With his blue lights flashing, Goldstein stopped the car outside the electronics store.
When the policeman stepped out, the Hyundai sped away. Goldstein was shot minutes later after the motorist crashed and ran away.
But the accused shooter, 26-year-old Mark L. Blake Jr., would not have been in a confrontation with police if he hadn’t been the target of a dubious stop, Blake’s attorney argued during a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Eduardo Curry said Goldstein had no reason to single out his client’s car that night.
“I’m sure any driver would ask, ‘Why’s this (police) car trailing me?’ ” Curry said after the hearing. “(Blake) cut diagonally through the parking lot. We all do that.”
Magistrate James Gosnell didn’t agree, ruling that both of Blake’s charges, failing to stop for blue lights and attempted murder, should proceed toward a trial.
The hearing ferreted out some of the circumstances before the shooting that police have hesitated to discuss. They had not said publicly why Goldstein tried to stop the Hyundai.
Curry put up little fight against the attempted murder charge. Blake, a West Ashley resident with a history of drug-trafficking arrests and running from police, is accused of shooting Goldstein four times.
Goldstein shot back, hitting Blake twice.
Special Agent Ryan Kelly of the State Law Enforcement Division testified during Monday’s proceeding that the episode began on Dupont Road as Goldstein waited to turn into traffic from a parking lot.
The officer pulled behind Blake’s car and noticed its dark tint and North Carolina tag. He followed it to the Citadel Mall, where the Hyundai heeded few traffic signs, Kelly testified.
In the courtroom gallery, Blake’s relatives shook their heads and whispered as the SLED agent described how Goldstein had trailed the Hyundai. Gosnell halted Kelly’s testimony to scold them by pointing and urging them to walk through the door if they couldn’t “chill.”
“I am the sole jurist,” the magistrate said. “This isn’t a time for anyone out there to start judging.”
Kelly testified that Goldstein stopped the Hyundai outside the Best Buy at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Dupont Road. It sped away as the officer got out of his cruiser.
After the Hyundai traveled down Dupont Road, its driver turned off its headlights and ran a red light, Kelly said. That’s when Goldstein decided to end the chase for “safety reasons,” Kelly added.
Goldstein continued on the Hyundai’s course on southbound Savannah Highway, but he had shut off his blue lights. A short time later at the ramp to eastbound Interstate 526, the Hyundai hit a guardrail and became disabled.
The officer came upon the crash as the motorist ran down an embankment. Goldstein never again turned on his blue lights as he stopped behind the Hyundai and ran after the driver for about 30 seconds.
Behind a hotel, the motorist turned and shot the officer, Kelly said. Struck in a leg, the chest area of his protective vest, a hand and an arm, Goldstein fired back and wounded Blake.
It was never determined who fired the first volley, Kelly said. Goldstein drew his pistol when he saw the suspect pull his own weapon, but he couldn’t recall to investigators who pulled a trigger first.
Goldstein fired 15 to 18 shots, and the motorist emptied his Glock 22 at the officer, Kelly said, but agents couldn’t determine how many rounds had been in the suspect’s gun.
The .40-caliber pistol, which Kelly said had been stolen from a Berkeley County home, typically holds 15 rounds in its magazine and another in its chamber.
Curry’s attempt to dismiss the misdemeanor charge was based on what he considered the dubious nature of the traffic stop and that Goldstein had cut his blue lights and stopped chasing the Hyundai when its driver ran from the crash site.
“He comes upon 526 — obviously not in hot pursuit, no blue lights, no siren — and sees a car that has wrecked and with the door open,” the attorney said. “At that point, you just call a tow truck.”
But by that point, the Hyundai had already fled from the Best Buy traffic stop, Assistant Solicitor Denton Matthews countered, so “the crime had already been committed.”