Man gets prison for leaving scene after deputy struck

Michael Murray pleaded guilty Wednesday in Berkeley County to charges that he left the scene of a wreck involving a death and being a habitual offender.

MONCKS CORNER — A Goose Creek man was sentenced to eight years in prison for leaving the scene of a crash that killed off-duty Berkeley County Deputy Dawn Tillman last year.

Michael Murray, 34, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he left the scene of a wreck involving a death and being a habitual offender. He was driving with a suspended license April 15 when he fell asleep at the wheel of a minivan that crossed the center line of North Rhett Extension.

The minivan grazed a car and then struck Tillman's Mustang. She died April 17.

Murray, who fled the scene in a pickup, told the court that he had to drive under suspension to support his family. "I'm not a criminal. I'm not a monster," he said. "I fell asleep at the wheel."

Friends, family and fellow deputies told Circuit Judge James Williams about the 37-year-old deputy who touched so many lives.

"Not only did I lose a cousin who was almost a sister to me, but I did lose a sister in law enforcement," said Berkeley County sheriff's Sgt. Mark Tillman.

John "Roy" Tillman IV said he was horrified April 15 when he picked up the phone that morning expecting to hear his sister's voice on the phone, but instead heard that of Mark Tillman's, explaining what happened.

Roy Tillman said his sister had taken her first vacation day off in three years as a deputy to prepare for a weeklong trip. He told the court he hopes no one else will have to stand vigil for their loved one for three days, waiting to find out if they will live or die. He said he hopes no one else will have to make the decision, like he had, to end the life support.

He and others asked Williams to impose the maximum sentence of 30 years. "I'm glad you'll have no where to run to now," said Anita Davis, Tillman's best friend.

Murray's license was suspended in 2006 until 2011 for being a habitual offender. He said he drove while suspended because, without transportation, he wouldn't be able to work as much as 70 hours a week to support his family.

Public Defender Patricia Kennedy said he was helping to support nine children. Murray said it was particularly difficult at the time because his wife was pregnant and couldn't work. He said he left because he didn't know someone was seriously hurt.

"I'm nowhere near what people made me out to be," he said.

Williams offered his condolences to the family but said he had to take into account all of the facts. Murray only would have had a maximum of five years to serve had he remained on the scene, and there's likely nothing he could have done anyway, he said.

Murray will get credit for a year served in jail. He will be eligible for parole in a little over 5 1/2 years, which means he could be out by 2013.

Roy Tillman said he should have received more time.

"I don't think it was enough," he said.

Reach Andy Paras at 745-5891 or aparas@postandcourier.com.