A Clemson University employee charged with DUI is facing a wrongful death lawsuit in connection with a crash in downtown Greenville.
David Robert Lee, 37, of Central, was charged with DUI first offense after police said he struck a 79-year-old woman crossing Main Street on March 8.
Virginia Byrne was hospitalized from the crash and died of blunt force trauma to the head on March 10, according to the Greenville County Coroner’s Office.
Leonard Byrne, Virginia Byrne’s widower, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, the details of which were first reported by The Greenville News.
The lawsuit alleges that Lee was negligent in driving while intoxicated and “rapidly accelerating” his vehicle in an area that is highly trafficked by pedestrians.
The complaint argues that Leonard Byrne has suffered medical expenses, funeral expenses, mental anguish, emotional distress, grief, sorrow and loss of companionship.
The two had been married for 53 and a half years, the suit states. After the crash, Leonard Byrne told The Greenville News his wife was known for her love and hugs, and “adored by everyone.”
According to the lawsuit, the couple was returning from church around 8 p.m. when Leonard Byrne parked his car on Main Street near their home in downtown Greenville.
The two were crossing Main Street when they saw Lee driving toward them in a Ford pickup truck. Leonard Byrne waived at Lee to get him to stop then tapped on the passenger side window to tell Lee to stop. Virginia Byrne was following behind Leonard Byrne, the suit states.
Lee appeared annoyed at having to stop for pedestrians, according to the suit.
As Leonard Byrne was walking toward their front door, he heard Lee’s truck accelerate. He then heard a loud scream and a loud thump, according to the suit.
“Mr. Byrne turned around to find his wife lying motionless on the ground in front of the defendant’s truck,” according to the suit.
According to Greenville police reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act, Lee refused to take a breathalyzer test once officers arrived on scene.
A dashcam recording also obtained from the Police Department shows an officer conducting a field sobriety test on Lee. He is directed to walk toe-to-toe in a straight line and told to stand and balance on one foot before the officer places him in handcuffs. The recording has no sound.
Lee told police he saw a man cross the road but did not see Virginia Byrne in the roadway and that she was not in the crosswalk, according to an incident report.
A moderate odor of alcohol was coming from Lee as he was speaking, according to the police report. He also had bloodshot eyes and admitted to drinking, the report states.
According to a traffic ticket, Lee is scheduled for a court appearance on the DUI first offense charge on April 30.
Donnie Porter, a spokesman for the Greenville Police Department, said the investigation is still ongoing and charges have not been upgraded to felony DUI resulting in death in light of Virginia Byrne’s death.
Lee works at Clemson as an associate director of public relations, outreach and media opportunities in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
At the time of the wreck, Mark Land, Clemson’s vice president for university relations, told The Greenville News that Clemson was aware of the incident and “going to look into it.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Land confirmed Lee was still employed at Clemson.
“Yes, David is still employed. That’s really all that we can say,” Land said.
Leonard Byrne is being represented by Greenville-based attorney George Campbell, according to court documents. Campbell did not respond to calls by Thursday afternoon.