WALTERBORO — The truck driver who tried to save four young people in a burning pickup Sunday is a hero, two of the victims' parents said.
Patricia Connolly thanked Gordie Marsh for trying to get her son, John Connolly Jr., and his friends out of the truck after it crashed into a tree in the median of Interstate 95.
Connolly, 21; Adam Peggs, 21; and Tracy Hovinga, 19, all died Sunday after the truck erupted into flames, according to the Colleton County Coroner's office. All three men are from Florida.
Marsh and others pulled Kali DeRitis, Connolly's girlfriend, out of the vehicle just before it exploded. DeRitis, five months pregnant, died at a Columbia hospital four hours later.
Patricia Connolly said Tuesday they were all returning from a trip to Virginia when the wreck occurred near Walterboro.
She and her husband were in a vehicle with their son's 4-year-old daughter, about a mile ahead of their son, when they began to get worried that they didn't see him. They turned around when they noticed a dark plume of smoke and that all traffic had stopped.
"My husband ran to the truck but it was too late," she said. "I just want to thank the truck driver for doing what he did. In my eyes, that man is a hero."
Tony James DeRitis, Kali's father, said he considers the wreck an accident. He said his daughter was a happy young woman who loved life. "She had a very, very good soul," he said.
Peggs and Hovinga were like brothers to Connolly, his mother said. John loved to hunt and drive a stock car, she said.
They told his daughter he is in heaven.
"We know he is in heaven," she said. "We're taking comfort he is with God."