Beaufort News

Delay of months, possibly years, expected in fatal Bluffton tow truck shooting case

It could take months, maybe years before a final ruling comes on whether tow-truck driver Preston Oates will face trial for manslaughter charges after the Christmas Eve 2010 shooting death of a Bluffton man, attorneys say.

The family of slain 34-year-old Carlos Olivera calls that an unacceptable delay of justice for a father of four killed after a parking dispute over a booted minivan.

But Oates' attorneys, who are preparing to argue before the S.C. Court of Appeals that their client was the victim that night, could request immunity from prosecution all the way to the state Supreme Court.

The delay is the result of what both prosecutors and defense attorneys call an unintended consequence of laws that shield people from trial when claiming self-defense. In South Carolina, it's known as the Castle Doctrine. In Florida and other states, it's called Stand Your Ground.

Claiming self-defense allows attorneys to appeal murder and manslaughter charges up to the highest court and has increased delays in prosecuting cases in this state and others, said 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.

"It's giving protection to criminals," Stone said.

Oates' attorney Don Colongeli said those laws are a "huge topic" now, even more so as media coverage and uproar continues over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.


The Oliveras' plea for speedier justice recently received attention from the fastest-growing broadcast network in the United States: Spanish-language network Telemundo.

In a piece that aired last week, Mary Gamarra, host of Telemundo news show "Al Rojo Vivo," asked Stone if Oates would have been prosecuted faster if the victim had not been Hispanic.

Stone said no, citing the unintended consequence of the Castle Doctrine -- lengthy appeals can be filed by both prosecution and defense lawyers before it's decided whether a case even goes to trial.

"We've always had protection for crime victims in our law, and I've never prosecuted someone for shooting a burglar, a carjacker or an armed robber," Stone told the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. "The problem with the statute now is manslaughter and murder have another appeal route. Simply by claiming the defendant was trying to protect himself, the burden is on us to prove the charges."

Oates' attorneys have claimed that an armed Olivera threatened Oates with carjacking and kidnapping after Oates put a boot on his minivan. By claiming that Oates shot in self-defense, they can appeal a March ruling from a magistrate denying Oates immunity from prosecution.

Colongeli, Oates' attorney, acknowledged that the Castle Doctrine leads to delays.

It has "created somewhat of a monster, so to speak, when it comes to delay tactics, if that's what you want to call them," he said.

If asked to guess, Colongeli said it would be 18 to 36 months before a final decision on whether Oates will face a jury.

"In this particular situation, obviously both sides have the option to directly appeal the judge's ruling," Colongeli said. "We have chosen that right, and we will await the Court of Appeals' decision. If we win, the state can appeal that decision, and it could go all the way to the Supreme Court."

Colongeli said he has received many calls from attorneys across the country regarding the case. But he declined to be interviewed by Gamarra for her show on Telemundo, he said. His research into her show led him to believe that the interview would be one-sided.


Oates' defense is "trying to twist" how Carlos Olivera was killed by claiming that Oates was threatened, said the slain man's brother, Nelson Olivera.

Nelson Olivera was also involved in the argument with Oates after the boot was placed on Carlos Olivera's minivan. That argument ended with Oates firing six bullets into Olivera, who was also armed but whose weapon was never fired, according to the Solicitor's Office.

"They say we were the ones threatening to harm him," Nelson Olivera said. "We are not the kind of people who would murder somebody,"

The Telemundo coverage, which allowed Carlos Olivera's widow, Dhayam Olivera, and others in the local Latino community to be interviewed in their native language, helps the family's plea for retribution stay alive, he said.

They used the opportunity to repeat their plea that Oates should be waiting for trial behind bars, instead being of out on bond, Nelson Olivera said.

"This is not a soap opera," Nelson Olivera said. "This is a human life."

Follow Allison Stice at

Related content:

Judge upholds decision to allow Oates case to proceed to trail, March 13, 2012

Oates not immune from prosecution, judge rules, March 7, 2012

Oates' defense seeks dismissal of manslaughter charge, Oct. 5, 2011

Messages tagged on area vehicles protest Bluffton tow-truck driver's release on bond, Oct. 4, 2011