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Emily Whitener couldn’t hold back her tears as she stepped to a microphone and spoke to Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard on Thursday morning, April 17.
As the widow of 26-year-old Jeffrey Whitener, a Monroe, N.C., man who was killed last May after the car he was driving careened off a curve along Camp Creek Road, she sobbed as she described her life without her late husband.
Joining her inside Courtroom A at the Lancaster County Courthouse just after 9:30 a.m., were her late husband’s mother, Linda Thomas, as well as two of his sisters.
The group had gathered to watch the arraignment of 25-year-old Charles Levi Small.
Small, of 2431 Great Falls Highway, was indicted by a grand jury on April 10 for reckless homicide in the death of Whitener.
Both Small and Whitener, who did not know each other, had been driving to work when the wreck happened in the early morning hours of May 7, 2013.
Small stood facing the judge as Emily Whitener addressed the court.
“I ask you don’t set bond. He’s a danger to the community,” she said, as tears streamed down her face. “It’s my child that has to spend the rest of her life without her daddy.”
Thomas, who followed next, was succinct in her comments.
“It’s been almost a year since my son lost his life and this guy has no remorse,” Thomas said.
Their comments came minutes after Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield presented the case and explained the events leading up to the wreck.
Deputies and S.C. Highway Patrol troopers were called to the 2300 block of Camp Creek Road just before 6 a.m. May 7, minutes after the accident. There they found Whitener’s body, which had been ejected from his car.
His Honda, which had broadsided a tree on the driver’s side, sat crumpled in the yard of a nearby home. The car’s front, driver’s side and roof were almost completely destroyed and ripped away.
Also nearby was Small’s pickup truck, which was askew in the middle of the road. The truck had lost a tire during the wreck.
Small received minor injuries in the accident and was taken to Springs Memorial Hospital for treatment.
Barfield said Thursday there was no connection between the men and they did not know each other prior to the incident.
Though he was reluctant to label the incident as “road rage,” he said both drivers were seen passing each other and slamming on their brakes prior to the wreck.
He said much of what was learned during the investigation came from three witnesses who saw the two cars make aggressive moves against each other that morning.
“There was some tailgating initially by Small and, then, there was some brake checking on both parts,” Barfield said.
Brake checking describes when a driver slams their brakes to get a person behind them from driving too close.
“There were passes made by both as well and Camp Creek Road is not the best road to be on, with just two lanes and lots of curves,” he said. “As they approached the curve, both were doing 68 in a 45 (mph) zone. Small decided as he got out of the lane to pull back in as he approached the curve. He clips Whitener and Whitener’s car goes off the road.”
He said that’s when Whitener’s car crashed and he was ejected from the car.
After hearing the details of the case, Whitener’s family began loudly sobbing.
Barfield said a grand jury reviewed the facts of the case on April 10 and returned a true bill, meaning they found probable cause to issue an indictment and send the case to General Sessions Court.
“This is a direct indictment from a grand jury to initiate the charge,” Barfield said. “The (S.C.) Highway Patrol MAIT (Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team) investigated this and reconstructed the accident. It took awhile to get it done and then report back.”
‘A good boy’
As part of Thursday’s arraignment, Kinard asked Small how he would like to plead. Small entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ and also asked for a jury trial.
Barfield told the judge that Small’s criminal history includes simple assault and disorderly conduct charges from 2006, as well as two traffic-related charges.
“Something concerning to the state is that he has two charges of driving under suspension from earlier this year,” Barfield said. “(The state is concerned) because of the nature of the case he’s been indicted for.”
Small told the judge he only learned about the indictment April 11 and said he would probably not be able to afford a lawyer.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” Small said. “I’m single and I live with my father.”
Kinard suggested he may need representation.
“It’s a pretty serious charge,” Kinard said, before asking Barfield how much prison time Small could face if convicted.
“This carries up to 10 years (in prison),” Barfield said.
Before watching his son led away by deputies, Small’s father, Clarence Small, also had a chance to address the court. He called his son “a good boy.”
“He’s lost his job over this. He’s a good man and he’s never been in no trouble. Please put a bond we can afford. I’m on disability. It’s gonna be a hardship,” he said. “This is a tragic accident and Levi feels really bad about it. My whole family feels bad about it.”
Kinard then commented on the case before setting bond.
“I don’t know if it’s an accident or what. That’ll be figured out later. But he’s looking at 10 years. I realize the family feels he should start serving time now, but I’m setting his bond at $25,000 or 10 percent,” Kinard said.
Kinard also stipulated that if Small were released on bond, he was prohibited from contacting Whitener’s family and is required to continue living with his own family.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416