Charges pending in fatal Hilton Head wreck

rlurye@islandpacket.comMay 17, 2014 

The photo shows the car involved in the March 28 fatal wreck on Dillon Road. Two Hilton Head Island High School students died and two others were injured.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

Charges are pending against the driver in the one-vehicle wreck that left two Hilton Head Island High School seniors dead and two other students seriously injured in late March, according to a S.C. Highway Patrol report.

Troopers are working with the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office to charge Ramon Morales, 18. He was driving his 2011 Ford Fusion on Dillon Road on March 28 when he reached speeds of about 115 mph, ran off the right side of the road into an embankment, struck a culvert and went airborne, according to a report released to the Island Packet on Friday by the Highway Patrol's Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team.

The Ford reached a height of about 15 feet, clearing tall shrubs alongside the Airport Office Park at 21 Dillon Road, and struck a tree before coming to rest in the parking lot, the report said.

Passengers Cory Rocha, 18, and Cesar Herrera, 17, died before paramedics arrived, while Morales and passenger Michelle Alvarez, 16, were transported to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, according to the report.

Both of them appeared to have suffered head injuries, according to paramedics interviewed in the report. Alvarez - who also suffered a broken leg, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report - later told troopers she did not remember getting into the car or the wreck.

She remained in the hospital until at least April 9, according to the Highway Patrol report.

Investigators tried to interview Morales April 9 and 21 but his father told them he was still hospitalized and could not speak, according to the Highway Patrol report. They will try again when his condition improves, Sgt. Bob Beres of the Highway Patrol said Saturday.

Troopers determined the crash was primarily caused by aggressive driving, as well as driving too fast for conditions and exceeding the speed limit, according to the report. Morales was not tested for drugs or alcohol, but neither was found in the vehicle, according to Beres and the report.

Solicitor Duffie Stone said Friday the investigation into whether to bring charges is ongoing. Additional information about charges was not available from the Solicitor's Office or Highway Patrol Friday or Saturday.

Troopers initially investigated the possibilities that Herrera was driving Morales' car at the time of the wreck, or that another student -- whose car had a broken headlight that day -- was racing the Ford and made contact with the vehicle before it ran off the road.

Those theories were later discounted.

"We do not believe drag racing occurred," Beres said "[There is] no evidence to support another vehicle was involved."

In an interview with troopers, the student said his car was struck a week before, not the day of the wreck. He also said he was home at the time of the crash.

He added Morales had driven by his house about 1:30 a.m. to see if he wanted to come out, but the student declined. The next morning, the student saw the wreck and drove to his friends' homes, where he learned Morales picked Herrera up soon after they said good-bye the night before.

The wreck probably happened shortly after, the student told troopers, as Morales did not often drive down Dillon Road unless he was picking up friends

Morales was a responsible driver and did not race, the student said. Herrera was known to speed, but Morales would not ordinarily let someone else use his car, the student said.

It was not clear Saturday how troopers determined Morales was driving. Beres said investigators used physical and circumstantial evidence but he would not elaborate.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

Related content:

2 students die in Hilton Head wreck on way to school Friday, March 28, 2014

Hundreds attend funeral for teens killed in Hilton Head Island crash, March 31, 2014

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