A West Columbia man has been arrested for his alleged role in a February hit-and-run accident that killed a popular USC photography instructor.
William Craig Caughman, 45, of West Columbia, was charged Monday with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, which is a felony that carries a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison. He also was charged with obstruction of justice, said Lt. Jeff Simmons, an investigator at the Cayce Department of Public Safety.
Caughman allegedly was behind the wheel of a pickup truck around 10 p.m. on Feb. 21 when he struck Toby Morriss, who was riding a BMW motorcycle west on Knox Abbott Drive from downtown Columbia. Caughman was driving east toward Columbia on Knox Abbott and made a left turn onto Ninth Street in front of Morriss, Simmons said.
“When somebody pulls a truck in front of you there’s nowhere you can go and not much you can do,” Simmons said.
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Police were called to the scene after other motorists found Morriss’ body lying in the street. He was taken to Lexington Medical Center where he died seven days later from a pulmonary embolism that resulted from his injuries, said Jenny Prather, a close friend.
Police said Caughman hid his green 2000 Ford Ranger pickup behind a shed that belongs to his father. The two men live next door to one another and share a fenced backyard, Simmons said.
The pickup truck’s doors are missing, and police are searching for them, Simmons said. Investigators think other people helped hide the doors.
Caughman became a suspect after an anonymous tipster called Crime Stoppers.
The week before Mother’s Day, investigators met with Morriss’ parents, who live in Oklahoma, to tell them they were at a stalemate in the investigation, Simmons said. The tip came a few days after that meeting.
Prather, the friend, said she and Morriss’ family are grateful to the tipster. Now, they are trying to understand why someone would flee the scene rather than help.
“Instead, he took steps to hide,” she said. “I believe in forgiveness. There’s some anger and hurt to process first.”
Morriss had moved to Columbia after evacuating from New Orleans during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina disaster and soon became a well-known figure in town.
He got a job as a photography instructor in USC’s art department and worked as a mechanic for vintage motorcycles at a shop in Lexington, said Prather, who met Morriss when she took his class.
“To know Toby was to be changed in some way,” she said. “Toby had a way of touching you at your essence and encouraging you to follow your dreams.”