Investigators reveal video of fatal Bluffton Christmas Eve shooting

January 14, 2011 

A video obtained by Beaufort County sheriff's investigators shows a tow truck driver firing shots at the man he allegedly killed on Christmas Eve during a dispute about a boot on a minivan.

That information, along with statements the tow truck driver made to investigators the night of the shooting, was revealed Friday during a preliminary hearing for Bluffton resident Preston Oates, a 27-year-old tow truck operator charged with manslaughter and a weapons violation.

The hearing before Municipal Court Judge Ned Tupper at the Beaufort County Detention Center was held so the attorneys could have the opportunity to ask investigator Staff Sgt. Angela Viens questions. There was no ruling.

Under questioning from lawyers Friday, Viens said the video shows the victim, Carlos Olivera, 34, of Bluffton at the driver's side of Oates' tow truck, parked in the Edgefield neighborhood near Bluffton.

The video, captured by a neighbor's surveillance camera that faced the passenger side of the tow truck, shows Olivera turning away. Oates emerges from the truck and fires his gun, Viens said. Three muzzle flashes appear on the video. Olivera falls, but his body can't be seen because it is blocked by the truck, she said.

The video, which was not played during the hearing, was said to show Oates' tow truck backing up to the minivan at 8:25 p.m. The shots were fired at 8:30 p.m., Viens said.

According to authorities, Oates had put an immobilizing wheel boot on Olivera's minivan. Olivera asked Oates to remove it, saying the van had been parked for less than 30 minutes outside the home of Olivera's brother. Oates said he would remove the boot for $300, authorities have said.

An argument ensued that members of Olivera's family and neighbors were both witness to and involved in, Viens said.

Both men were armed.

Olivera never fired his weapon, Viens said.

Oates shot Olivera six times -- four times in the back, once in an arm and once in the head -- killing him, the Sheriff's Office has said.

NEW DETAILS

Viens also revealed statements made by Oates to investigators on the night of the shooting.

Oates told officers he retreated to the driver's side of the tow truck after Olivera's family and others near the home began to approach him. He told officers Olivera and his brother, Nelson Olivera, began to argue with him and that he heard someone call for a shotgun.

He told officers he tried to calm the brothers and said he told them he would call his boss at Pro Tow, where he is a co-owner, or a member of the Edgefield Homeower's Association to resolve the situation, according to Viens.

"The way (Oates) explained it, it was like a distraction, something ... to calm the confrontation and say, 'Hey, you know, these are the regulations, this is our policy, you know, let me see what I can do about it,' " Viens said during the hearing.

Oates told investigators he heard what sounded like a gun cock. Oates told them Olivera was in mid-draw when he fired. Oates said he had discretely removed his gun from the glove compartment and placed it on the seat during the argument, Viens said.

Witnesses said Olivera did not point a weapon at Oates, but a statement from Nelson Olivera indicates Carlos Olivera removed the gun from his waistband, showed it to Oates and put it back, according to Viens. Olivera had a concealed-weapon permit.

Oates' attorney, Don Colongeli, pressed Viens on whether Olivera had shown his gun to Oates.

Viens said that is what Nelson Olivera told police.

Colongeli also asked Viens about a neighbor's statement that one of Olivera's female relatives told her not to call police, which she confirmed.

He questioned whether investigators could determine if Olivera had attempted to open the door of the tow truck.

Viens said the video did not show that.

At one point, Oates handed keys to Nelson Olivera, which Nelson Olivera believed were for removing the boot, Viens said.

"Is it possible those keys were taken from Mr. Oates at the same time Nelson indicated his brother took the handgun out of his pants?" Colongeli asked.

Viens said she did not know, but it was possible.

Viens said Olivera's gun was found about 18 feet away from his body. She said it was possible it had been kicked or moved by the large, angry crowd that had gathered. She said it had not been fired.

Viens agreed with Colongeli's description of the crowd as "extremely hostile" and that Oates had been taken away by investigators because of threats made by those in the street. Oates was charged three days later.

Viens has also filed subpoenas for Oates' phone records and his Myspace page.

Viens said investigators have not determined whether Oates was hired by the Edgefield Homeowner's Association or by the neighborhood's property manager, IMC Resort Services, to do towing work in the neighborhood.

She has not been successful in contacting IMC, she said, although she has obtained an e-mail from Oates to IMC outlining payment and hours of operation.

SUSPECT'S FAMILY SPEAKS

After the hearing, Oates father, Paul Oates, said his son had not operated a tow truck since 2008 when Preston Oates was stabbed during a towing dispute. He had agreed to patrol the neighborhood Christmas Eve because he was received a call asking him to do so, his father said. Paul Oates said he wasn't sure whether the homeowner's association or IMC called his son. The towing company's other two drivers were off for the holiday, Paul Oates said.

Paul Oates and a statement from his wife, Rita, asserted Preston Oates was the victim that night.

Rita Oates' statement says she sympathizes with Olivera's widow and his children, but that her son "is guilty only of not wanting to be murdered."

Viens said the case is still active. Ballistic, autopsy and toxicology reports have not been completed.

Oates is being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center. He has a bond hearing on the manslaughter charge in circuit court the week of Jan. 24.

Deputy solicitor Angela McCall-Tanner is prosecuting the case for the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office.

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