Christmas Day crash victim dies; driver to face new charge

rlurye@islandpacket.comJanuary 4, 2014 

Matthew Andrew Zitello

A 2013 Hilton Head Island High School graduate injured in a single-vehicle accident on Christmas Day died Friday, according to the Beaufort County coroner.

A 2013 Hilton Head Island High School graduate died Saturday as the result of injuries from a single-vehicle accident on Christmas Day, the Beaufort County coroner said Saturday.

Vianery Garcia, 19, was a passenger in 19-year-old Matt Zitello's car when the fellow Hilton Head Island High graduate crashed Dec. 25. Garcia, who was on life support, was declared brain dead Friday at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said.

Zitello was driving east on Dolphin Head Drive inside Hilton Head Plantation about 11:30 p.m. on Christmas when his Infiniti QX sport utility vehicle left the road and overturned in the Seabrook Drive wood line, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Garcia was extricated from the vehicle in critical condition and airlifted to the hospital.

Zitello, who allegedly purchased a 25-ounce can of beer at a convenience store prior to the crash, was found sitting in the grass on Dolphin Head Drive. He was treated for his injuries and, upon his release, charged with felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury. That charge is punishable by a fine of $5,100 to $10,100 and a sentence of thirty days to 15 years.

Once the S.C. Highay Patrol and the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office confirm the fatality, the charge against Zitello will be amended to felony DUI resulting in death, Cpl. Sonny Collins said Saturday. That change will come no earlier than Monday, he said.

Felony DUI resulting in death is punishable by a fine from $10,100 to $25,100 and a sentence of one to 25 years.

Zitello was also charged with one misdemeanor count of possession of beer or wine by a minor. A clerk at the Pantry convenience store on Gumtree Road was charged with a misdemeanor count of sale of beer or wine to a person younger than 21 and the business received a citation.

Reached Saturday, Garcia's cousin Damaris Morelos said the family has been devastated. The teenager was working at the Salty Dog Cafe on Hilton Head Island and helping plan the wedding of one of her three brothers, Morelos, 20, wrote in a message to an Island Packet reporter. She also loved soccer and often escaped to the beach with her dog.

"Vianery was a joy to be around, always cracking jokes, always clowning around," Morelos wrote. "Her life was like any other 19 year old ... Her life was really just getting started."

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Related content:

Alcohol violations at Gumtree Road Pantry added in Christmas crash on Hilton Head, December 30, 2013

Driver, 19, charged with DUI; passenger hospitalized in single-car crash on Hilton Head, December 27, 2013

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