The 26 who lost their lives

August 12, 2009 

11-year-old Ricky Gilmore and 7-year-old Willie Gilmore look at a car on Sandhill Road in Eastover where Terry Capers, 30, was crushed to death by a tree.

DOUG GILMORE — The State

As people scurried to add up Hurricane Hugo's damage in terms of dollars and discomfort, many forgot that the storm took human lives -- at least 26 of them.

Some were strong and hard-headed, but six were senior citizens and five were 8 years old or younger. Six burned to death, six drowned, nine were crushed, two were electrocuted, two died of heart attacks and one was cut by a saw.

These are the stories of those who perished.

Lamont Davis, 13 months

It wasn't until after the winds slowed and daylight broke through Addie Mae Davis' smashed mobile home that she realized her son hadn't cried all night.

Lamont was killed before sunrise when the family's mobile home in Mayesville, a Sumter County town, flipped and smashed into the ground.

"The storm got real bad late in the night, about 2 o'clock. The house began shaking and it turned over," Mrs. Davis said. "We were in the bedroom, in one end of the trailer. We stayed in until that morning. We were stuck."

When daylight showed, Mrs. Davis dug herself from the wreckage and began gathering up her seven children.

"We couldn't find Lamont," she said. "I remembered that he didn't cry that night."

A neighbor found the child's body.

The family moved in with Mrs. Davis' mother in Mayesville, but will be looking for a home soon. The mother's house was heavily damaged, too, and won't be livable during repairs.

"We don't know where we're going," Mrs. Davis said.

Samuel Winecoff, 58

When this Duke Power lineman died while repairing a utility pole, a family of four lost its father and a town lost its Santa Claus.

The Fort Mill resident was electrocuted at 5:45 p.m. the day after Hugo struck, while working his 16th hour of the day repairing storm-damaged power lines in York County. It was his 21st year with Duke Power.

"Every year at Christmas, he played Santa Claus for the town parade. Oh, he loved kids," said his daughter, Jackie Elms.

Winecoff worked with children at the Independent Bible Baptist Church in Fort Mill.

"The church and his family were his life," Mrs. Elms said. "He was a Sunday school teacher, and also was the Sunday school superintendent."

When Winecoff left for work at 3 a.m. on Sept. 22, the family thought the worst was over. The storm had pounded much of York County.

Mrs. Elms said she was struck by the irony of her father surviving the storm, but dying while trying to restore normalcy in its aftermath.

Norman Wrenn, 87

Norman Wrenn had lived his entire life on the same 30-acre plot of land in the Francis Marion National Forest, near Jamestown in Berkeley County.

He was an historian of the area.

"He had logged and farmed most of his life," said J.C. Fort, Wrenn's step-grandson. The land where his home stood was cleared by hand. Several buildings, including Fort's mobile home and Wrenn's house, were on the property.

What Wrenn saw after Hugo killed him.

"When he came in here he saw everything he had, totally demolished," Fort said. They had tried to return to Wrenn's property on Saturday, but they were delayed by downed trees until about 11 a.m. Sunday.

"He's been legally blind for some 30 years, but in bright light he could see. We had only been here a matter of 20 minutes, enough time for him to look around a bit," said Fort. "He went in the bedroom and collapsed."

The coroner listed the cause of Wrenn's death as massive coronary failure.

Cheryl Lee Christianson, 41

Douglas Christianson, a carpenter, and his wife, Cheryl Lee, who made ballbearings for a heart-lung machine company, left their Troy, N.Y., home the day before the storm. He was a proud parent, heading to Charleston to see his son, Douglas Jr., graduate from Marine boot camp at Parris Island.

They didn't make it to graduation, and Christianson left South Carolina without his wife. Christianson's last memory of Cheryl Lee was as the hurricane swirled, lifting up a mobile home and exposing her crushed body.

"I tried reaching for my wife, and all I could do was touch her," he recalled a week later from his home in New York.

The couple arrived in South Carolina the afternoon before the storm and learned that Charleston had been evacuated. They ended up with a relative in Berkeley County, staying at a St. Stephen mobile home.

Christianson described the scene:

"About 11 o'clock at night the trailer started rocking. The trailer lifted up off the foundation. The lights were off. There were a couple of candles and my nephew scurried over to blow them out. Just as he did the wind picked up again and completely demolished the trailer on top of us.

"My wife and I were still alive at this point. We saw what appeared to be daylight and we tried to get out when the front wall collapsed on us. We crawled on our stomachs through the front of the trailer, and we made it to our car. We got inside of our car.

"Another trailer was ripped off its steel frame. It smashed in the side of our car. We felt we were safer outside on the ground. We got out of the car and laid on the ground. We were there for a few moments. The wind blew some more, and it tore the bottom of the trailer off and blew it over the top of the car, on my wife. From what I understand, it crushed her immediately.

"I laid on the ground for quite a while. When I realized what had happened I tried to get myself out and I couldn't move. I don't know how it happened, but the trailer lifted up off the ground so I could get myself out."

When the trailer lifted, Christianson saw his wife underneath.

Authorities found a cut and bruised Christianson wandering aimlessly in the yard about 5 a.m.

Trudy Ball, 78

Trudy Ball lived in a mobile home at 1508 Perrywinkle Drive, on the east side of the Cooper River in Charleston County.

When the storm surge came, water rose nearly 10 feet around her home and she drowned. She was found the next morning.

Her son, Sonny Ball, was able to escape by jumping from a window.

Ernest Reeves, 57

When Hugo came, snapped trees trapped hunting dogs at the Papermaker Hunting Club near Ladson in Charleston County.

Ernest Reeves, 57, was trying to save the dogs Sunday afternoon by cutting his way to them with a saw. He and several other men reached the dogs, but their curiosity led them on a different route away from the club.

"They could have come back out, but they wanted to clean a bit more," said Reeves' brother, Glen. "Have you ever been sitting on a corner and you just wanted to see what was around the next corner? He was that type person, he just wanted to see."

As Reeves was cutting a log about 14 inches in diameter, the saw whipped back and cut his neck. His companions drove him 23 miles to meet paramedics.

"He survived surgery, but he lost his whole body blood. His heart couldn't stand that shock to his body," his brother said. Reeves died at 1:10 a.m. Monday.

"He loved to fish and hunt," said Debbie Reeves, his 30-year-old daughter. Reeves left behind four children.

He had worked at a papermill as a machine tender for 35 years.

"He lived his life the way he wanted, regardless," his brother said. "Ernest would never lie to you, but if he had something to say, he would say it. If you liked it, you liked it, if you didn't you didn't."

Terry Capers, 30

Terry Capers left his mother's Eastover house in Richland County about 9 p.m. the Thursday of the storm, heading for a friend's home on Sandhill Road.

About 4 a.m., Capers left the friend's home to investigate a crashing noise. It was just after the height of the hurricane's winds in Richland County.

For some unknown reason, Capers, an unemployed veteran, went to his car shortly before an oak tree toppled, crushing him and the vehicle.

"We probably never will know the exact reason why he stayed in the car," said Fred Riddle, chief deputy of the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

Capers would never see his 8-year-old daughter again.

"She'll be staying with me," said his mother, Maggie Capers.

Robert Lee Page, 59
Harold Hutson, 58

Robert Lee Page was an insurance adjuster who, because of his years of experience, worked catastrophic claims of $100,000 or more. His hobby was shrimping.

Page and his friend Harold Hutson, both of Charleston, planned to move their 45-foot trawler up the Cooper River into Berkeley County to safety before Hugo hit.

"Their idea was to take it upriver, where they could ride it out," said Stan Townsend, who worked with Page at Gab Business Services in Charleston. "He said they were leaving first light of day Thursday."

Page and Hutson were found drowned on the Cooper River the day after the storm.

Page had been with Gab Business Services for 32 years.

"He was the man," Townsend said. "He was our company in Charleston."

Hutson, a retired Naval engineer, was an "electronics whiz," Townsend said.

The men expected the storm to hit later than it did, and for winds to be less violent.

"I don't know if it had been that bad on the way if they would have had enough sense to anchor it and leave it," Townsend said. "Both were very hard-headed individuals."

Page leaves behind his wife, and a son who rushed home from a foreign exchange program in Germany.

Said Townsend of Page: "He loved the water. If it was his time, it was best that it was on the water."

Betty Dillinger, 65

Betty June Wood Dillinger used candles to light her mobile home in Georgetown County after the storm knocked out power. By the next Wednesday, she was still using candles in the home on S.C. 521 about six miles from Georgetown.

About 6 p.m., her husband Wayne went for groceries. When he returned, the mobile home was ablaze. Mrs. Dillinger was pronounced dead at 7:25 p.m.

Paul Spencer, 30

Paul Christopher Spencer, an auto and boat mechanic from James Island, planned to move his 32-foot cabin cruiser up the Cooper River to protect it from the storm.

His body was found in the river the day after the storm, in Berkeley County.

"His life was his boat," said Robbie Skipper of Skipper's Amoco, where Spencer had worked for about five years.

Brian Arthur Jackson, 38
Kathleen Kelly Jackson, 41

For 20 years, the Jacksons had anticipated sailing charter boats in the Bahamas.

With their children grown, they began their voyage last month out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in their 48-foot sailboat.

"They thought, well, now we can do what we want to do," said Mrs. Jackson's father, Bill Kelly. "They thought they had it wrapped up."

Kelly said his son-in-law bought the sailboat last year in California.

"I guess they spent about a year working on it. Down in Marathon (Fla.), she had a beauty shop." Mrs. Jackson sold the shop to allow for the trip, which they planned to last about two years.

What forecasters told them could soon develop in the Caribbean -- a storm named Hugo -- made them decide to travel north, toward South Carolina.

"They wanted to wait until the hurricane season was over," Kelly said.

They wound up outside of Charleston, as the hurricane they had hoped to avoid churned toward them.

The day after Hugo struck, the couple's bodies were found on their sailboat on the Wando River. Jackson was inside the boat's cabin. Mrs. Jackson was tied with rope on the deck, and the coroner said it wasn't clear whether she had secured herself there or had become entangled.

Monday was Kelly's birthday, and though he had heard about the storm, he thought he would hear from his daughter and son-in-law.

"I figured there's so much damage, they couldn't get out or something," he said. On Wednesday a medical examiner in Florida told him the news.

Arthur McCloud, 57

Arthur McCloud lived in a home in the middle of the Charleston peninsula. At 6:31 a.m. Friday, while winds still whipped the city, emergency rescuers received a call that he was trapped in his house, which had collapsed.

Rescuers worked for nine hours to free him. He died a short time later of massive internal injuries.

Ras Junior McClellan, 76

About 48 hours after Hugo, the McClellan residence five miles outside of Dillon remained without power. Candles supplied light.

About 12:09 a.m. Saturday, fire ripped through the brick home. Three people escaped.

A fourth, 76-year-old Ras Junior McClellan, was killed.

"He was pretty much an invalid," said Dillon County Coroner Dan Grimsley. "He had to have help to get around. If he went to the bathroom, they had to help."

Amanda Carroll, 8

Amanda Rene Carroll was trapped in her grandparent's burning home on S.C. 90 near Conway, about four hours after the storm came ashore.

Her body was found in a bedroom.

"Me and my husband left and went to our son's house in town," said Murtis Carroll, a neighbor. They returned about 4:30 a.m. "When we got back the house was burning. We met the ambulance as they were going into town."

Amanda, a Waccamaw Elementary School student, had celebrated her eighth birthday about two weeks before she died.

On the Thursday Hugo arrived, her family -- her two sisters, mother and father -- moved from their mobile home to her grandparents' house. Electricity to the home was knocked out Thursday night, and the family lighted candles.

The rest of the family, including the grandparents, managed to escape the blaze, which firefighters believe erupted from an unattended candle left on a television set.

Manning C. Rodgers, 74

Manning C. Rodgers had heart problems for several years. After the hurricane swept through his community of Cassatt in Kershaw County, he set out to repair his home.

About 10:30 a.m. last Wednesday, he collapsed after picking up a board to nail onto his house. The coroner said he died of coronary failure.

Rodgers, a native of Cassatt, was a retired mechanic with DeKalb Motors.

Calvin Jackson, 43

Calvin Jackson Jr., 43, offered his brawn to clear trees on Sumter Street in Hartsville two days after the storm. When a large limb fell, the father of four children was killed.

"I don't think a day would go by that you wouldn't see him in some part of town. He liked to be out among people," said Jackson's sister, Dorothy Samuel.

Jackson, a Hartsville native, served in the military in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 and was wounded. He returned home on partial disability. He married in New Jersey, where he had three girls and a boy.

When he and his wife divorced, Jackson came home to Darlington County and was seen at Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church every Sunday.

"If he had anything, of course he would share it with you," Ms. Samuel said. But her brother was "very independent. It wasn't like he would sit around and wait for something, or for somebody to bring him something."

Samuel Middleton, 69

In Orangeburg County, Samuel Middleton, of Route 1 in Eutawville, was sleeping in his mobile home about 1 a.m. when the storm picked up the trailer and slammed it to the ground 40 feet away.

Middleton, a retired bricklayer, was killed.

"His sister came by during the day and tried to get him to go with her. He didn't want to," said Middleton's brother, Abraham Middleton. "I guess that's the way he was supposed to go."

Middleton had raised five children and lived alone.

"He was just doing a little piddling, a little farming," Abraham Middleton said.

Frierson Wilson Jr., 32

Twelve children lost their father when Frierson Wilson Jr. was thrown from his Woodrow area mobile home in Lee County about 3:30 a.m. Friday.

"Of course, he loved children," said Sara Boone.

His youngest child, Geneva Wilson, was born the day before the storm. Wilson visited his wife in the hospital early on the Thursday before Hugo struck, and saw the baby for the first and only time.

Wilson's first cousin, Mary Wactor, said Wilson took some of his children to his mother's home, next door to his own mobile home, shortly before the storm hit.

He told his mother, Lucinda Wilson, that he needed to run back to his home, Ms. Wactor said.

"They asked, 'You're coming back?' He said, 'Yes, I'm going to the trailer and I'm coming right back.' " Ms. Wactor said. The next morning, "(Mrs. Wilson) walked over there and looked and saw him laying over there dead."

Coroner M.D. Hancock said the mobile home appeared to have exploded.

"He was just blown out of that mobile home. It was just like you put a box of dynamite in it," Hancock said.

Wilson worked for the city of Bishopville as a groundskeeper, said his brother, Moiese Shaw. "He was a sensitive guy, understanding. He didn't have any enemies."

Isiah Mack, 67

Isiah Mack, of 2114 Courtland Ave. in Charleston, went to his kitchen about 11:30 p.m. the night Hugo struck. He was hungry.

Rescuers found his body there after his house collapsed. His sister, Bertha Ferguson, was able to crawl from the rubble to safety.

Leroy Crosby Jr., 59

Friends knew Leroy Crosby Jr. as "June."

About 6:30 p.m. Monday, Crosby was killed while clearing storm damage from his back yard in Kingstree. The coroner determined that he had touched a live power line.

"He was the type of personality that everybody else liked," said Walter Brown, human resources manager at Baxter Travenol Laboratories, where Crosby had worked since 1962. "He was two days short of his 27th anniversary."

D.W. Richardson has known Crosby for about a dozen years. Richardson, a funeral director, buried his friend on Friday.

"He was a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving guy. He loved to fish and he loved to hunt," Richardson said.

Crosby left behind two sons, including one who suffered severe head injuries in a car accident several years ago. The son remains disabled.

"I really feel sorry for him. He would kind of go off sometimes, and 'June' was the only one who could really control him," Richardson said.

Christopher Mounts, 8

Steve Mounts of Summerville was returning a favor for a friend Friday by helping to clear trees. He brought along his 8-year-old son, Christopher.

The child was killed when a hardwood tree fell and struck him.

"His friend came over to Steve's house Thursday to help him cut trees in his yard," said Berkeley County Deputy Coroner Chuck Langston. "So on Friday, Steve goes over to his friend's house in Goose Creek to help him."

The child was standing about 15 feet away from the tree.

"The tree twisted when they cut it and fell the wrong way," Langston said.

The child was taken to Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he died of massive head trauma about 6:55 p.m.

Teresa Sinkler, 20
Kelly Sinkler, 3
Dyrell Sinkler, 1

A mother and two toddlers were killed about sunrise Sunday when fire swept through their house near Pinewood, in Clarendon County. Candles, lighted after several days without electricity, were the suspected cause.

Ms. Sinkler was a farm laborer.

"She worked real hard," said B.T. James of B.T. James Grocer. "She was a quiet person. She'd come and buy what she wanted."

Ms. Sinkler usually brought her children with her.

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