March 27, 2014

Police: Blossom Street bridge crash a murder-suicide

The Blossom Street bridge crash in January was ruled a murder-suicide by investigators, but they say they do not know which passenger was responsible.


The Blossom Street bridge crash in January was ruled a murder-suicide by investigators, but they say they do not know which passenger was responsible.

The incident is considered a murder-suicide and non-negligent manslaughter, according to the final Columbia Police Department report on the incident, released Thursday.

Denzel Whyatt Jr. was driving the 1999 Ford Explorer from downtown toward Cayce with Shannon Y. Mickens as the passenger. The vehicle crashed through the Blossom Street bridge railing and plummeted about 50 feet into the icy waters of the Congaree River late one Monday night, according to the incident report.

The city’s Traffic Safety Unit determined the incident was “a deliberate act,” a police news release stated. “Investigators are unable to clearly determine which occupant contributed to the tragic event.”

Whyatt, of Columbia, had a blood-alcohol content of .127 percent, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. That is higher than .08 percent, the state’s legal limit. Watts said there also were traces of marijuana in Whyatt’s system. Mickens, of West Columbia, had evidence of recent marijuana use as well, Watts said.

Efforts to reach family members of Whyatt and Mickens on Thursday were unsuccessful. Mickens left behind two daughters; her sister earlier told The State that the two children were deeply hurt by their mother’s death.

A witness stated that the vehicle did not seem to be out of control, the report said.

The investigation revealed that tire marks had been left by a side-slipping rotating tire, not a sliding locked tire, the report stated.

The S.C. Highway Patrol assisted by performing a peer review on the investigation, said Jennifer Timmons, spokesperson for the Columbia Police Department.

Despite knowing that Whyatt was driving, investigators were unable to determine which person deliberately caused the wreck, the report said.

However, the traffic safety unit received several anonymous tips in days immediately following the crash that Whyatt was violent at times, according to the report. Tipsters also said Whyatt and Mickens were in a relationship and fought frequently, the report stated.

Mickens’ sister told investigators that Mickens had previously told her that Whyatt had said he was going to drive off the Blossom Street bridge, the report stated.

In 2012, Whyatt’s mother, Thomasina Eaddy Cousin, committed suicide in Killeen, Texas, by jumping off a bridge over Stillhouse Hollow Lake, according to the report.

Whyatt was charged with criminal domestic violence in 2008, and was involved in an armed robbery in 2012, the report stated.

Whyatt also had been convicted of misdemeanor charges of possessing marijuana in 1999 and 2005, according to a State Law Enforcement Division background check.

Mickens did not have a criminal history, but her privilege to drive in South Carolina had been suspended, the report said.

“This tragic event continues to take an emotional toll on both families,” said interim Columbia Police Chief Melron Kelly in the news release. “Unfortunately the only people who truly know what led up to the incident and what really happened are not here to explain the situation.”

According to the press release, the reasoning for determining that the incident was intentional includes:

•  The driver refrained from prudent acts which would have prevented occurrence of the event

There was evidence of aggressive steering.

•  The driver accelerated through the bridge’s guardrail.
•  No road hazards were present.
•  No weather-related conditions or hazards were a factor.
•  There was no mechanical failure.
•  Witness accounts indicated the vehicle did not appear to be out of control, swerving or excessively speeding prior to the crash.
•  The toxicology reports tested positive.

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