Beaufort News

Bond denied for tow truck driver who shot and killed man on Christmas Eve

Preston Oates approaches the bench at the start of his bond hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Friday morning.
Preston Oates approaches the bench at the start of his bond hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Friday morning. Jonathan Dyer

Tow-truck operator Preston Oates was denied bond Friday on a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of a Bluffton man after a Christmas Eve parking dispute.

Circuit Court Judge Craig Brown sided with 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, who told the judge he had no doubt Oates was a danger to the community because of evidence and eyewitness statements collected after Oates shot 34-year-old Carlos Olivera six times.

Stone handed the judge the mugshot of Oates taken after his arrest Dec. 27, three days after Olivera was shot in front of his brother's house in the Edgefield neighborhood. Oates is smirking, and the nonchalance of the booking photo "concerns me greatly," Stone said.

"I don't believe the defendant understands at all the seriousness of this," Stone said.

After the shooting, Oates told the gathering crowd of neighbors and the victim's family "feliz Navidad" as he was led away to a patrol car, Stone said.

Stone also noted Oates has a prior conviction in Georgia for receiving stolen goods, and he faces a misdemeanor charge of selling alcohol without a license at an alleged nightclub Oates was operating out of a rented space in a Bluffton-area business park.

Oates' attorneys, Don Colongeli and John Ferguson, argued their client acted in self-defense after Olivera threatened him and brandished a gun tucked in his waistband.

Investigators have said Olivera had a valid weapons permit and did not fire.

Oates now is the one in danger because of the strong community reaction to the incident, Ferguson said. He asked for a personal recognizance bond with the condition that Oates be allowed to stay in North Carolina or Georgia when not required in court. He said some in the community have been verbally "intemperate" but did not provide details of specific threats.

Ferguson said Oates is not a flight risk because of his family ties to the area, adding the Sheriff's Office has indicated he has been cooperative.

Stone called the shooting a discussion that escalated. He said investigators are still piecing together details.

But at least four of the shots Oates fired were in Olivera's back, and a video from a neighbor's surveillance system shows Olivera walking away when Oates fired the first rounds, Stone said.

The incident began when Oates put a boot on Olivera's car at about 8:25 p.m. Dec. 24. When Olivera protested, Oates said he would remove it for $300, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has said.

Olivera and his brother, Nelson, confronted Oates. Nelson told investigators Olivera removed the gun tucked in his waistband, but never pointed it.

Ferguson said Oates has no serious criminal charges against him, despite a job in which he frequently encounters angry car owners, including one who apparently stabbed him in a 2008 argument about parking enforcement.

"This case presents the tragic story of a hot-headed man who pulled a pistol on a tow-truck driver about to tow his truck and the consequences of that action," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said Olivera threatened Oates' life after Oates retreated to his tow truck and relinquished the keys to the boot.

Ferguson said Olivera stayed at the driver's door of the tow truck and demanded Oates get out, Ferguson said.

When he got out of his truck, Oates brought the gun he kept in the glove compartment.

According to Ferguson, Olivera was lifting his gun to shoot when Oates fired

Grainy footage from a neighbor's surveillance video -- which Stone said will be digitally enhanced to reveal more details -- shows Nelson Olivera attempting to remove the boot and Carlos Olivera walking away when Oates fired.

Olivera's relatives packed the courtroom Friday and gathered outside the courthouse holding signs that read "Justice for Carlos."

Members of Oates' family also attended the hearing, where sheriff's deputies walked the aisles separating the families and made sure they exited at different times.

Nelson Olivera said he is relievedOates was denied bond because having him out would be stressful.