In nearly 40 years on the bench, Circuit Court Judge Roger Henderson has never heard of a cover-up as extensive as the one Chester County prosecutors say a truck driver carried out after striking an SUV on Interstate 77 in February. A woman died as a result of the crash.
Stevie Breland, 58, is charged with hit-and-run involving death and is accused of fleeing the scene of the Feb. 8 deadly crash near mile marker 59 on I-77. Investigators determined a purple tractor-trailer struck a Ford Explorer, sending it crashing into the median and overturning. The truck continued north on I-77.
Flora Ellenburg, 49, of Salisbury, N.C., died at the scene as a result of blunt force trauma to the head due to ejection, authorities said. Breland was arrested three days later in Charleston County.
Breland appeared in court Friday for a bond hearing.
Deputy 6th Circuit Solicitor Julie Hall said Breland, a commercial truck driver from Charleston, was driving a load from Charleston to a distribution center near Charlotte when the crash occured. Portions of a purple bumper were left at the scene, and Hall said troopers with the S.C. Highway Patrol combed through surveillance footage from businesses and weigh stations between Charleston and North Carolina to catch a glimpse of the truck.
Surveillance footage at the North Carolina distribution center showed Breland’s truck arriving without a front bumper, Hall said.
Investigators determined that Breland removed the bumper and hid it in a wooded area behind a truck stop just off I-77 near Jonesville, N.C., Hall said. On the way back to Charleston the next day, Breland stopped in Orangeburg County to get a new bumper and painted the truck, troopers say. Portions of the truck, such as where mirrors are mounted, were lifted up, revealing purple paint underneath.
Hall said Breland even falsified his trucking log to reflect that he was in Charleston instead of Chester County at the time of the crash. However, the truck is equipped with a device that indicated it was involved with an impact at the time the crash was reported, and the vehicle’s GPS showed Breland was at the crash location at that time.
“The extent to which he went to cover this up is pretty astonishing,” Hall said.
Before denying bond for Breland, Judge Henderson said he was “disturbed” by the lengths Breland went to cover up the crash.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen a cover-up as extensive as this,” he said. “If somebody goes to this extent to cover up a crime, what extent will they go to avoid prosecution?”
Breland has previous convictions for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, fraudulent checks and solicitation of prostitution, prosecutors said. He was found at fault in a crash on I-77 in North Carolina last July and another crash on I-26 in Charleston in November, reportedly rear ending cars in both collisions.
Chester defense attorney Brian Grier, who is representing Breland along with Charleston attorney Jack Sinclaire, requested bond so that Breland could return to Charleston to work as a contractor and provide for his family.
“When Highway Patrol called and said, ‘We want to come talk to you,’ they were in Columbia and he was in Charleston,” Grier said Friday. “He said, ‘OK, I’m right here.’ If he was going to run from the police and he knew they were coming to see him, that would have been the time to do it.”
Breland’s wife, Ruthie, told the court she was shocked and that the accusations against her husband were out of character.
“I don’t understand anything, but this is not his character,” she said. “I’m not sure what happened. It’s just not him.”
Family members of Ellenburg were in court Friday but declined to speak.