Beaufort News

Second victim dies in I-95 tow truck wreck

The owner of a Beaufort tow truck company who was struck by a pickup as it ran off Interstate 95 in Jasper County died at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah on Saturday night, according to Jasper County Coroner Martin Sauls.

Denise Peeples Smith, 55, owner of East Coast Recovery, was operating a roll-back wrecker parked in the north-bound emergency lane on I-95 near the Coosawhatchie exit when the pickup veered off the interstate and crashed into the vehicle being loaded onto the wrecker, according to S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Bob Beres.

Both vehicles then struck Smith and her friend, Phyllis Amsler Cook, 52, of Beaufort, as the women stood next to the wrecker.

Cook was killed instantly. Smith was taken to Memorial University Medical Center, where she later died, Sauls said.

The driver of the vehicle that hit the wrecker, James Thomas, 61, of Florida, was taken to Colleton Medical Center in Walterboro with non-life threatening injuries, Sauls said. His condition was unknown Sunday.

The driver of the truck that was being towed was uninjured, Sauls said, adding that the man witnessed the entire incident unfold.

The investigation into the crash is ongoing, according to a Highway Patrol news release.

According to officials at the scene, the vehicle Thomas was driving contained multiple bottles of alcohol, though officials said it was too early in the investigation to know whether alcohol played a role in the crash.

Smith's daughter, Sonya Eppenger, 33, said her mother and Cook, both longtime Beaufort residents, had been friends since high school. Cook had been riding along in the tow truck Saturday to keep her mother company, she said.

Smith inherited the wrecker service from her husband, Don Smith, who died last year, Eppenger said. She said her mother held her own in a male-dominated business.

"I would help her sometimes in the truck and we would pull up to change a tire and there'd be a grown man there with this look on his face," Eppenger said. "She worked hard and did the best she could."

Funeral arrangements for the women, which are being handled by Anderson Funeral Home, are pending, Eppenger said.

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