A 39-year-old Salley man was sentenced to 44 years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to two counts of felony DUI that resulted in the death of a young local couple who were attending school in Charleston.
Stephen Corley, of Jewel Weed Road in Salley, pleaded guilty to driving drunk one December evening shortly after Christmas and causing the fatal wreck that claimed the lives of 24-year-old Alex Bush and his soon-to-be fiancee, 22-year-old Katie Scott.
Judge William Seals imposed the sentence Wednesday after hearing from several family members of the two victims, friends and family of the defendant, and Corley himself.
Corley received a sentence of 22 years in prison for the death of each victim, to run consecutively.
On Dec. 29, 2010, after eating dinner with his family at City Billiards in Aiken, Bush was driving east on Highway 302 with Scott as his passenger on the way to her parents' house in Couchton, before heading to Charleston where both were students.
Corley was driving west on the same road, and witnesses said that he entered the eastbound lane attempting to pass a vehicle, and collided head-on with the vehicle that Bush was driving, according to Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr.
Bush was pronounced dead the evening of the wreck, and Corley and Scott were transported to the hospital. Scott died the following day.
Witnesses said that Corley was driving in excess of 75 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone.
Corley's blood alcohol level approximately two hours after the wreck was .133, Thurmond said. Corley was arrested on Jan. 7 after his release from an Augusta hospital.
Family members and friends of Bush and Scott filled half of the courtroom's benches, many wearing stickers with photos of the deceased couple, and talked about the kind of people they were.
Bush, a graduate of South Aiken High School, was a Charleston School of Law student and was described by family members and friends as caring, honest, a great listener and someone who valued the time spent with his family.
"In a real sense, losing my son was tantamount to having lost a piece of myself," Bush's father said.
Bush's mother read from a Christmas card that her son had written her a few days before the wreck.
"I have never been this determined and I hope you know I know you have been there every step of the way," his mother read from the card in court.
Bush told his family that he planned to propose to Scott in the spring or summer. His grandmother said that she had offered to give Bush and Scott the wedding bands that she and her late husband wore for 52 years, and she said Wednesday Bush had liked the idea.
"Katie and I plan to have at least that many (years)," Bush's grandmother recalls him telling her. Now, she said, they will never have that chance.
Scott, who had a love for cheerleading, gymnastics and dancing and was pursuing a degree in fine arts at the College of Charleston, was described by family members as compassionate and beautiful, inside and out.
"She was a perfect role model," her sister Holly said. "All of our lives stood still the night that these two angels were taken from us."
Scott's sister Hope said that they looked to Alex as an older brother, someone who just days before his death insisted on checking on her car to make sure that everything was okay.
"Because of (Corley), I'm missing two members of my family," Hope said. "Neither one would want to live without the other, and that's why neither of them is still alive."
All who spoke on behalf of the couple asked the judge to impose the maximum possible sentence.
Felony DUI carries a sentence of one to 25 years. Corley, who pleaded guilty to two counts, faced the possibility of 50 years in prison.
Corley addressed the victim's family saying repeatedly "I'm sorry," and that if he could do anything differently, he would.
"I can't bring their lives back, I'm just very sorry. I'm sorry. It's all I can say. I'm sorry. I know y'all are hurting ... I just made a bad choice, but I'm sorry," Corley said.
Corley's family members asked the judge for leniency, saying that he was a good friend and a good father.
Corley's attorney, Fred Woods, said that Corley's grandmother died on the day of the wreck, and he fell into a depression.
"The depression, I believe more than anything else, caused his driving to be erratic," Woods said, asking the judge to give Corley the minimum sentence possible and give him an opportunity to speak to the community to share his story about the consequences of drunk driving.
Corley had no prior criminal record.
Corley will be required to serve at least 85 percent of the 44-year sentence.
Bush and Scott were both able to donate some of their organs, and the families of both have started scholarships in their names - Bush's at USC Aiken and Scott's at Aiken Tech.