RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The driver of the van troopers say caused an accident that killed a Columbia firefighter and critically injured another has been charged.
According to South Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Kelly Hughes, Neida Ortega has been charged with driving too fast for conditions and driving without a license.
Troopers say the van Ortega was driving rear-ended a Chevy Impala sending it into the median on Interstate 20 near Clemson Road Saturday afternoon. The car hit two fire trucks before striking firefighters Chance Zobel and Larry Irvin who were tending to a brush fire.
The firefighters were rushed to the hospital. Zobel died, and Irvin, 30, is listed in critical but stable condition.
Interim Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins told firefighters on Monday that Irvin's condition continues to improve. "The injury was not as bad as anticipated and he is now in recovery," wrote Jenkins. "He is alert and is indicating that he is not feeling any pain, which is great news."
However, Jenkins said Irvin still does not know about his partner's death. "Doctors do not what to cause any undue stress until they are confident he is prepared to accept it," wrote Jenkins.
Troopers said the drivers of both the Impala and the van were not injured. There were also six passengers in the van ranging in age from one to 35. None of the passengers were injured either.
Both men were stationed at Spears Creek Church Road, near Pontiac in Richland County.
Interim Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said Zobel is the sixth firefighter in the over 100 years of the department's history to be killed in the line of duty.
23-year-old Chance Zobel, just nine months into his dream job when he was killed, was due to be married to his fiance in April. He leaves behind a host of firemen who say he was like a 'little brother.'
"We're just going to miss him," said Jenkins. "He was well mannered. You don't find a lot of young men with the mannerisms that he had."
Now the chief who lost the young man he hired has a plea to the rest of us. "If you see an emergency vehicle, don't take time to stop and look, just keep moving, let traffic flow normally and be cautious and pay attention."
A public memorial for Zobel is being planned, but the exact date has not been set.
The investigation into the accident is still open. Hughes said more charges are possible, but not likely.