Benjamin discusses wreck

Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin held a press conference Wednesday to talk about his April 21 wreck involving Columbia resident Deborah Rubens.

COLUMBIA -- More than a month after the wreck that severely injured a Columbia woman, the mayor-elect of South Carolina's capital city broke his silence Wednesday, saying he had paid an $82 fine for driving without headlights.

Police also said they had ticketed the woman for driving without insurance.

Steve Benjamin was not injured in the crash that happened just before 6 a.m. on April 21, hours after the 40-year-old lawyer and lobbyist had been elected as Columbia's first black mayor.

Benjamin had been driving to a Columbia television station for early morning interviews when, just blocks from the state's capitol dome, his Mercedes SUV collided with a Toyota Tercel. Witnesses to the crash had told police Benjamin's SUV didn't have its headlights on, but police did not confirm those reports until Wednesday.

The other driver, Deborah Rubens, 61, has been in the hospital for over a month with brain injuries, a shattered pelvis and broken collarbone, making what her attorney has called a slow recovery. On Wednesday, police said she had been cited for driving without insurance.

After paying the ticket, Benjamin called a news conference to give his account of the accident and release written statements he had given police.

Police have said they did not think Benjamin had been drinking and did not administer any field sobriety tests. In written statements, Benjamin said he had two alcoholic drinks on election night, the last one around 12:30 a.m.

Afterward, Benjamin said he and his wife drove to a downtown hotel to spend the night, leaving their SUV with the hotel's valet. Benjamin would not say if he thought the valet had disabled a setting that would have made his headlights come on automatically when the car was restarted, but Benjamin said Wednesday both he and his wife routinely used that setting when they used the SUV.

"My family prays every day for Ms. Rubens and her recovery," Benjamin said. "We're a prayerful family. ... We know that to whom much is given, much is required."

The wreck spawned more than a month of controversy and led to the firing of Columbia's police chief.

Hours after the crash, Benjamin said that an outside law enforcement agency should step in and take over the investigation to avoid any appearance of favoritism. Then-Chief Tandy Carter balked, insisting that his officers were capable of handling the probe without any bias.

City Council leaders proposed the inquiry be turned over to the Highway Patrol, but that agency said it would not take over the investigation because so much time had passed and would instead review the city's investigation when it was complete.

Last month, city officials fired Carter over his handling of the crash investigation. On Wednesday, Benjamin said he stood by his earlier request that an outside agency be involved.

"The fallout is regrettable," Benjamin said. "It was important to us ... that the appearance of any conflict be cleaned out immediately."

Columbia police have not released their final report, which interim Chief Carl Burke said Wednesday his agency had completed and handed over to the Highway Patrol for review.

Benjamin is scheduled to be sworn in as mayor June 30.