James "Earl" Drayton, one of the nine Charleston firefighters killed in the Sofa Super Store blaze, was apparently a generous man with a complicated family life.
On Thursday, a South Carolina Workers' Compensation commissioner spent four hours trying to determine which relatives depended on Drayton financially.
The case highlights the difficulty of fairly distributing benefits and the donations that followed the June tragedy.
Drayton's widow testified that he saw his relatives infrequently and rarely carried cash, but Drayton's daughters and other relatives said they visited him frequently at the firehouse and that he supported them financially with payments that were almost always in cash.
Financial dependency is the standard that determines who gets a share of Drayton's workers' compensation payment, worth about $282,000, and Drayton's City of Charleston Firemen's Fund share, worth at least $475,000.
The fund has collected private donations for the families of the nine firefighters who were killed, raising nearly $4.3 million as of Dec. 7.
Those benefits are in addition to regular monthly checks from the State Retirement System's Accidental Death Program and Social Security survivor benefit program, city and state life insurance policies worth about $126,000, death benefits from the S.C. State Firefighters' Association and U.S. Department of Justice worth $320,000 and more.
Drayton's is the last of the firefighter cases to be heard by the Workers' Compensation Commission, partially because of the complex nature of Drayton's family and the number of claims.
Among Drayton's living relatives are: two stepchildren from his first marriage, three biological children from his first marriage, three stepchildren from his second marriage, his elderly mother, siblings, grandchildren and his widow.
"I've never had anything like this one," Commissioner Bryan Lyndon said at a previous hearing.
Unlike a Probate Court case, in which a deceased person's assets typically are distributed among relatives, the Workers' Compensation Commission considers only financial dependency.
The city decided to use that process to decide who gets the Firemen's Fund money, so the stakes are higher than usual. Normally, the hearings guide the distribution of 500 weeks of partial pay, the maximum benefit for a work-related death.
Widows and minor children qualify as dependents under state rules, but adult children, parents, siblings and others whom one might include in a will are often left out unless they can prove they regularly relied on the person financially.
Drayton's widow, Kim Drayton, and his 17-year-old stepson, Brandon, living at home, were found by the dependency investigation to be wholly dependent on the late firefighter, who earned about $42,000 a year with the city and who also held several part-time jobs.
Kim Drayton, 40, testified she knew that Drayton did not help pay for the living expenses of his brothers or his mother and said he did not provide regular financial help to his adult children.
"There's no way he could have," she said, estimating her late husband's total gross income at about $46,000.
However, one of Drayton's daughters, Jacqueline Drayton Davis, 31, said her father often helped her pay rent, utilities, car payments and later her mortgage.
Another daughter, Shawntell Drayton, 33, said he helped pay her college loans, starting last year, and her rent. The third and youngest biological daughter, Jeanette, 24, said he provided regular support, to the point of stocking her apartment with groceries.
None of the daughters could document the support. All said Drayton usually gave them cash.
"Up until his death, my father was basically supporting me," Davis testified.
Vernon Drayton, one of the late firefighter's brothers, made no claim for himself but urged Lyndon to be fair to Drayton's mother and children.
"When do we stop being a father?" Vernon Drayton said. "He supported these kids."
Thelma Mitchell, Drayton's sister and the legal guardian of their 85-year-old mother, said her late brother was a quiet man who just wanted to take care of his family.
"He wouldn't have wanted this," Mitchell said, referring to the sometimes contentious hearing.
A ruling is expected within weeks.