COLUMBIA, S.C. — This isn’t what’s supposed to happen to good Samaritans.
People like Travis Jefferson and Lashanda Dupree — who stopped their cars on the side of a road to help others in distress — are supposed to be rewarded.
Not injured themselves.
Certainly not killed.
But they were electrocuted and two others were injured early Sunday trying to help victims at the scene of an Orangeburg, S.C., crash that police are calling equal parts bizarre and tragic. One person was killed in the crash itself and another was injured.
“It’s strange, very bizarre,” said Lance Cpl. Josef Robinson of the state Highway Patrol. “And very sad.”
It began around 2 a.m. EDT Sunday when Wilmon Jerome Callaway, 27, was driving along S.C. 4 with passenger and friend Octavia Murphy, 24, of Orangeburg.
His car ran off the road, according to the Highway Patrol, downing a power pole before hitting a tree.
Callaway was ejected from the car. As of Monday, he was at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, listed in critical condition.
The car’s passenger, Murphy, a mother of three, died at the scene.
“She was a great mom. When she had time off work, that time belonged to her kids,” said Marquett Tyler of Orangeburg, Murphy’s cousin.
The two women were raised together as sisters.
“I really can’t believe she’s gone,” Tyler said. “I can’t believe someone I used to share baths with when we were kids, share a bed with, share meals with is gone. We would have shared clothes too if I hadn’t been bigger than her.”
The scene became even more tragic when another vehicle came along and the occupants tried to help.
The four people in the second car were friends of Murphy and Callaway — Travis Jefferson, 27, of Cordova; Lashanda Dupree, 33, of Orangeburg; Lakeisha Meeks, 25, of Orangeburg; and Damon Nelson, 25, of Orangeburg.
It’s unclear whether the four friends had been out with Callaway and Murphy and were following them home or whether the four just happened upon the scene of the wreck.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to figure out,” said Sean Fogle, Orangeburg County’s deputy coroner. “It’s one of these weird cases where we’re trying to piece it all together.”
As the four worked to help their injured friends, Jefferson and Dupree were electrocuted by the fallen power lines and died on the scene.
“It was dark out there and I guess they probably walked over the (power) line without knowing it,” speculated Marilyn Redish, Jefferson’s grandmother. “He died helping his friend. He died a hero.”
Jefferson, a forklift driver and father who played both football and basketball during his days at Edisto High School, was the kind of man who would help friends, no matter the risk, Redish said.
“If he walked through the door right now and I started fussing at him about all of this, he would say to me, `If it happened again, I would do it again.”’
The other two good Samaritans, Meeks and Nelson, were shocked by the electricity, but survived.
It’s unclear whether Meeks and Nelson were in the car and somehow were shocked or whether they were outside of the car and came in contact with a downed line, Fogle said.
Monday afternoon, Nelson’s birthday, the machine operator was wheeled out of surgery with his fiancee by his side.
He has third-degree burns and is listed in serious condition at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta.
“He tried his best to save his friends,” said LaKeisha “Nikki” Johnson, Nelson’s fiancee. “And I’m just so happy he didn’t pass away. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost him.”
Meeks, a mother of four, was listed in good condition at the Still Burn Center.
“My heart just stopped when I heard she had been hurt,” said Cherrie Hampton, Meeks’ grandmother. “I’m thanking God it was no worse.”
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