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An alligator lumbered down the sidewalk along Mathis Ferry Road in Mount Pleasant in 2003 near the Interstate 526 overpass. File/Staff

Fencing parts of Interstate 95 to control wildlife or monitoring the roadway for alligators could have averted a car wreck last year that killed a woman and two children, a lawsuit contends.

Those are among the allegations in an Orangeburg County wrongful death lawsuit that names the S.C. Department of Transportation among the defendants.

The complaint also names Kia Motors along with its design center and a Hyundai America technical center.

The suit was filed in May by Joshua Stanley of Nassau County in Florida, who is seeking damages in the deaths of his wife, Amber Stanley, and two minor children, Jack and Autumn.

It was filed in the Orangeburg County Court of Common Pleas.

The fatal accident in May 2018 occurred late at night near Holly Hill, close to where the highway crosses the upper reaches of Four Holes Swamp, a known haunt of the animals. The Stanleys died after their car struck the alligator, then hit a tree and caught fire.

The location is in the far reaches of the state's geographic coastal plain and nearly 50 miles inland.

Stanley's attorneys charge that DOT acted negligently in:

  • Failing to properly design, locate, install and maintain fencing along the tree line parallel to the roadway intended to keep wildlife from encroaching upon and crossing the roadway.  
  • Failing to inspect the roadway for hazardous conditions such as wildlife, including alligators, on the roadway during mating season.
  • Failing to remove trees in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes.

The lawsuit also said that as a result of the DOT actions, the victims "died horrific deaths as a result of the post-collision fuel-fed fire from this crash."

A department spokesman said DOT does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit primarily alleges the auto maker and designers "owed to the general public, including the deceased, the duty to design, manufacture, test, market and sell vehicles that were reasonably safe and/or not unreasonably dangerous to use."

Alligators are powerful creatures that tend to take a direct route from waterhole to waterhole, climbing over or through barriers. Male gators roam for mates in the spring.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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