William Holt Carlen, the son of the late University of South Carolina football coach Jim Carlen, was quietly sent off to prison earlier this month after pleading guilty to a 2012 felony DUI that resulted in death.
Although Carlen’s attorneys, Joe McCulloch and Todd Ellis, asked Judge DeAndrea Benjamin to let Carlen stay out of prison until after Thanksgiving, the judge ordered Carlen to be taken into custody immediately.
Benjamin gave Carlen 10 years in prison, taking into account the past three years he has spent on house arrest. Consequently, he has seven more years to serve. The maximum penalty was 25 years in prison.
During the hearing, Carlen acknowledged he ran over and drug a pedestrian, Justin Timmerman, 24, to his death in the predawn hours of May 5, 2012, in Columbia’s Five Points area.
Evidence in the case showed Carlen, now 27, had a blood alcohol content of .20 – more than two times what is considered legal evidence of impaired driving. Carlen was driving at a high rate of speed and didn’t try to stop when his 2009 Land Rover SUV struck and killed Timmerman, according to evidence.
Dick Harpootlian, who represents the Timmerman family, said the family was aware of the plea negotiations and is satisfied.
Sending Carlen to prison appears to be the final act in a tragic night and its tangled legal aftermath.
After their son was killed, the Timmerman family sued a Five Points bar, Jake’s Bar & Grill, for allegedly serving Carlen multiple alcoholic drinks while he was “obviously intoxicated,” according to the lawsuit. Jake’s paid the Timmermans $975,000 but admitted no fault, according to settlement papers. That lawsuit was brought against Jake’s under a state law that bans bars from selling beer or wine to intoxicated persons.
The Timmermans also sued the Carlen family. At the time, Coach Carlen was still alive and was the owner and insurer of the SUV that his son was driving.
The Carlen family settled that lawsuit for $1.3 million but admitted no fault. The elder Carlen lent his SUV to his son and gave his son the credit card he used to buy alcoholic drinks, all the while knowing his son had a history of DUI arrests, according to a lawsuit in the case.
Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crimes Victims’ Council, said the judge was right not to let Carlen spend Thanksgiving with his family before going to prison. “The victim didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family. Extending sympathy to someone who kills someone in a DUI is such a slap in the face of the victim.”
Noting that Carlen was allowed to spend three years on house arrest and now only has seven years to go, Hudson said, “He could have gotten 25 years in prison. Seven years is a gift.”
Timmerman’s death in the center of Five Points, at the intersection of Harden and Greene streets, was one of a string of injuries and deaths in Five Points that underscored the need for more traffic safety measures in the popular nightlife area near USC.
Since then, traffic engineers have painted some existing crosswalks with larger lines and brighter paint and have added a “No Right on Red” sign.
The elder Carlen, USC football coach from 1975 to 1981, coached George Rogers, USC’s only Heisman Trophy winner. Carlen died at 79, several months after Timmerman’s death.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for the Timmerman family, a tough sentence for Mr. Carlen and, hopefully, a lesson for all,” McCulloch said.