LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The man charged with felony DUI in the death of a Department of Transportation worker on Interstate 20 Monday afternoon says he had no idea the collision occurred.
During a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon, 39-year-old Thomas Stafford of West Columbia told a judge the crash came as a surprise to him. "It scared me," said Stafford in court. "I had no idea"
Stafford, who was out on bond just two weeks after his second DUI charge, said he pulled over a short distance down the interstate after his friends pulled up next to him and told him what happened. Troopers say Stafford was confused because he was drunk.
He is also charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death.
According to a background check, Stafford's first arrest for DUI came in 2009. He was convicted in that case. His second arrest came on November 19 at 2:15 p.m. in Pine Ridge. He was awaiting trial on that charge.
DPS says Stafford was traveling west on I-20 around 1:35 p.m. Monday afternoon when he swerved to the right into the emergency lane and hit 21-year-old Nicholas Johnson of Columbia. Stafford continued on I-20 until eventually stopping on the side of the road.
Wendy Williams worked with Johnson. She says he was new to the department -- only a year and a half into it. She can't believe he's dead because they were together earlier in the day.
"He took me and another young lady to the Flying J for lunch," said Williams. "We just had soda pop and a pizza."
Williams says the newcomer asked her for advice about career longevity. What she told him now makes her think.
"Be patient," said Williams. "It gets better."
SCDOT says Johnson worked primarily at the Richland County facility.
Stafford was denied bond. He will remain at the Lexington County Detention Center until his next court appearance.
If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.