The supervisor of the S.C. Governor’s Mansion was one of two people killed in a multi-car collision in downtown Columbia caused by a driver fleeing from police in a stolen car containing a pistol and drugs.
Chamberlain Branch, age 48, worked for 10 years at the mansion, where he arranged events and supervised staff. He was called “a genuine guy” who “drew people to him like a magnet,” according to news accounts.
The state’s Department of Public Safety reports 589 fatal car accidents in South Carolina between January 1, 2012, and October 18, 2012. These crashes resulted in 632 deaths of passengers, drivers, pedestrians, bicycle riders and others sharing the road.
According to The State newspaper:
The incident began at 12:30 AM Friday when the driver of a 2011 Hyundai disregarded a traffic stop near Knox Abbott Drive and State Street in Cayce and headed toward downtown Columbia, according to the statement.
Ignoring a patrol car’s blue lights and sirens, the driver reached speeds of 70 miles per hour and crossed the Knox Abbott Drive bridge onto Blossom Street. The officer pursued him.
The driver drove through the red light at Huger and Blossom streets and struck a Ford minivan that was traveling out of the city on Blossom. Branch, who was driving the minivan, died at the scene, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said.
The driver of the stolen car, identified as Shyborn Belton, 23, of Columbia, also died at the scene. Belton was driving with a suspended license, according to the Cayce Department of Public Safety. Officers found drugs and a stolen pistol in the car.
Three passengers in the Hyundai were taken to Palmetto Health Richland in serious condition. The Hyundai collided with a second car, a 2007 minivan taxi, whose driver was uninjured.
Branch – described as a kind and gentle soul who loved everybody – worked under Governors Jim Hodges, Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley.
“We are heartbroken and feel an incredible loss with Chamberlain’s passing,” Haley said in a statement. “Everyone who knew him loved him. His smile and laugh were contagious. He was a very special part of our family, and his gentle soul, good humor and care will always be treasured memories for each of us.”
A “wrongful death” is a death caused by the negligence or misconduct of another person or company – whether from a defective product, workplace accident or car wreck. In South Carolina, families of those killed may have a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover money damages.