Trial set for tow-truck driver charged in Christmas Eve 2010 shooting in Bluffton

rlurye@islandpacket.comMay 28, 2014 

A tow-truck driver will face trial on manslaughter charges next month, more than three years after he was accused of killing a Bluffton man on Christmas Eve 2010.

Preston Oates, 30, will go to court June 16 for shooting 34-year-old Carlos Olivera during an argument over a boot Oates put on Olivera's minivan, according to one of his lawyers.

The case against Oates has been stalled for years as his lawyers argued that Oates was protected by South Carolina's "castle doctrine," which makes defendants immune from prosecution if they kill someone while protecting themselves or others in their home, workplace or vehicle.

The shooting occurred after Oates booted Olivera's incorrectly parked van in Bluffton's Edgefield community and said he would remove the device for $300, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. During the confrontation, Olivera pulled a gun from his waistband and threatened Oates, his attorneys have said. Oates shot Olivera six times -- four times in the back.

A Circuit Court judge ruled in March 2012 that the castle doctrine did not apply to Oates. Oates' attorneys appealed, but were denied by the S.C. Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled similar appeals should come only after a defendant stands trial.

The defense decided not to appeal again, in part because legal proceedings and jail time had "financially completely drained" their client, attorney Don Colongeli has said. Oates and other defendants also settled a lawsuit with Olivera's widow for $1.75 million in August 2013. It is not clear whether Oates contributed money to that settlement.

The criminal case was set to be heard in early 2014, but the defense and Solicitor's Office agreed to postpone it until after a trial in April for three men charged in the murder of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton of Hilton Head Island, Colongeli said.

The courthouse could not safely accommodate both trials at once, he said.

"We saw that as an extremely impractical time to try a case of this magnitude, with the media and security concerns," Colongeli said. "But we're extremely confident and anxious to get this in court."

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, who could not be reached Wednesday, has maintained that there was no threat to Oates when he shot Olivera. Olivera did not fire his gun, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Oates has been out of jail since August 2011 on a bond of $200,000. Though he is free to work and travel under electronic monitoring, Colongeli said Oates has struggled to find a job because of the charges against him.

"It was a terrible tragedy, but in the end, I think people will understand what really happened and hopefully this will be put behind him and he can get back on track with his life," Colongeli said.

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

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