A week after fatal crash, shock wearing off, officials reviewing incident

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A week after fatal crash, shock wearing off, officials reviewing incident

Published Saturday, March 3, 2012   |  1177 Words  |  

Shelley Fox didn't think it odd that the firetruck speeding toward her on Ribaut Road didn't have its emergency lights on or its sirens blaring.

What she couldn't understand was why it was swerving.

"There was no one behind him, and there was no one in front of me," Fox said. "He had all four lanes to himself and was speeding between the fast lane and the median. He was losing control and just jerked the wheel real hard. The guys on the sidewalk never saw the firetruck."

More than a week after 26-year-old Kalvin Hunt of Sumter allegedly stole a Port Royal fire truck and struck and killed a pedestrian, local police, fire and military officials are studying the Feb. 24 incident. Witnesses like Fox continue to relive what they saw, and those who once knew Hunt -- an Iraq war veteran and a former corporal who was demoted last year to private -- wonder what went wrong.

Marine Pvt. Hunt was charged Tuesday with murder in connection with the death of the pedestrian, 28-year-old Justin Miller of Port Royal, and 10 other offenses related to the theft of the firetruck and the many wrecks Hunt was said to have caused on Ribaut Road.

He remains in the Beaufort County Detention Center after waiving his right to a bond hearing on a murder charge Friday. His bond on 10 other charges related to the crash was set at $500,000.

'Like a bolt of lightning'

Investigators charged Hunt with murder because they said he willfully steered the firetruck across at least two lanes of traffic toward Miller and his brother as they walked south down Ribaut Road.

Fox isn't so sure.

"The road was wet. ... It had just rained, and he was out of control," she said. "I don't think he meant to hit that guy. He had all that weight behind him in the firetruck and jerked the wheel hard. He shot across so fast. It was like a bolt of lightning."

Fox called 911, and within minutes, a cavalcade of police cars, firetrucks and ambulances arrived.

Miller was pronounced dead at the scene. His brother was unharmed.

Since the accident, Fox said she has thought often of the families of the pedestrian, of the man accused of killing him and of the events that might have kept the stolen fire engine from hitting her.

"I just thank God," Fox said. "It must be God. That's the only thing I can think to explain why that wasn't me. I was in the wrong place at the right time."

'A really nice young man'

As investigators piece together the events leading up to the crash, those who knew Hunt are wondering what went wrong.

Rut Dingle, Hunt's high school principal in Sumter, said the allegations against his former student are in stark contrast to the young man he knew at Sumter High School.

"I never had any real problems with him at school," Dingle told the Sumter Item newspaper. "All my recollections are positive. He was always a really nice young man."

After graduating from Sumter High in 2004, Hunt enlisted in the Marine Corps and completed basic training at Parris Island in September 2004, according to Navy spokesman James Cullen of Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn.

Hunt worked as an F-18 jet mechanic, and his military career included stops in San Diego; Pensacola, Fla.; and Jacksonville, N.C., Cullen said.

Information about Hunt's combat deployments was not among the data relased this week but a Navy spokesman said Hunt was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal. The medal is given to service members who were deployed for 30 consecutive days to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn.

Dingle said he remembers Hunt as a proud Marine.

"After he went into the Marine Corps, he would come back to Sumter High to help recruit students to go into the Marines," Dingle said. "I was really distressed to hear whatever had happened to him."

Hunt's military career appeared to be nearing an end in April when he was convicted by court martial of assault, failure to obey an order and other violations of military law.

He was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge, a reduction of rank and pay grade from corporal to private, and 175 days of confinement.

Cullen said Hunt served his confinement but could not elaborate on the incident that led to the court martial because his case is being appealed.

An active review

Hunt allegedly stole the firetruck after fleeing Naval Hospital Beaufort, where he had been taken by a Beaufort County Veterans Affairs officer earlier that day.

Hospital officials have declined to say why Hunt was there, citing patient-privacy laws, but said they are reviewing the incident to ensure all Navy protocols were followed.

"We take our obligations to safeguard the well-being of our patients, staff and surrounding community very seriously," said Capt. Joan Queen, the base's commanding officer. "We are actively reviewing the details of this issue and will take appropriate action based on the findings."

Attempts last week to reach Edward Ray, the county's Veterans Affairs officer, for comment about why Hunt was taken to the Naval Hospital were unsuccessful.

Capt. Edward Simmer, the base's executive officer, avoided specific comments about Hunt but said patients at the hospital typically are within their legal rights to leave the facility or refuse treatment.

However, Simmer added that if patients are believed to be a threat to themselves or others, "appropriate measures are always instituted, including close supervision of the patient and notification of security."

Hospital officials have declined to say whether Hunt was considered a danger to himself or others, again citing patient-privacy laws.

Reporter Jade Anderson of The (Sumter) Item contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

Related content:

Port Royal firetruck-theft suspect convicted of assault last April by court martial, March 1, 2012

Man accused of joyride in stolen Port Royal firetruck hit with murder charge, Feb. 28, 2012

Man who stole Port Royal fire truck had fled Navy Hospital, Feb. 27, 2012

Nude man steals Port Royal fire truck, kills pedestrian, Feb. 24, 2012

Police identify suspect, victim in deadly Port Royal fire engine theft, Feb. 25, 2012,