Deputies: Man in crash that left 3-year-old on life support has long history of DUIs

jmonk@thestate.com; cwinston@thestate.comMarch 10, 2014 

A man facing felony DUI charges in an accident that left a 3-year-old on life support has four previous DUI convictions and was awaiting trial in a fifth case.

Lonnie Gross III, 44, was being held Monday without bond in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to jail records. He is charged with felony driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under suspension and a seat belt violation in connection with the Friday night accident in Northeast Richland.

The young boy, Josiah Jenkins, was riding in a car driven by his mother, Latoya Jenkins. The two had been out to pick up a pizza to celebrate Josiah being listed in a school newsletter at Lewis Greenview Elementary School, said Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins, who is the boy’s great uncle.

The two were on North Springs Road around 10 p.m. when the suspect’s vehicle allegedly veered left into Jenkins’ path, said Sgt. Bob Beres of the S.C. Highway Patrol, which worked Friday night’s accident.

Josiah Jenkins suffered severe head injuries and is breathing with the help of a ventilator, Aubrey Jenkins said.

Latoya Jenkins was “pretty banged up,” the chief said, adding she was treated and released from the hospital.

Gross has a history of DUI convictions, according to a State Law Enforcement Division background check. The convictions include one in Lexington in 1993, one in Kershaw County in 1999, one in Elgin in 2000 and another in Kershaw County in 2007, according to SLED records.

Gross was out on bond awaiting trial in a November 2013 DUI arrest at the time of Friday’s accident, SLED records show.

“This is so tragic – that our state is not willing to stop people from acting this way so many times,” Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Criminal Victims Council, said Monday. “It’s absurd.”

Hudson said suspending driver’s licenses is not preventing DUIs and tragic crashes.

The proposed “Emma’s Law,” now in the S.C. House Judiciary Committee, would put interlock systems on the vehicles of those convicted of driving under the influence. The measure is named for a first-grade Lexington County girl killed in 2012 on New Year’s Day by a drunk driver.

Aubrey Jenkins said he appeared at Gross’s Saturday morning bond hearing and urged the presiding judge not to let him out.

“We don’t want this man to get out of jail on bond – and then this could happen to somebody else,” Jenkins said.

“Seems to me he hasn’t learned his lesson,” he said.

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