Crime & Public Safety

Hilton Head man pleads guilty in DUI crash that killed doctor on Cross Island

A Hilton Head Island man charged in the fatal DUI crash that killed a Hilton Head doctor on the Cross Island Parkway three years ago admitted his guilt in a non-negotiated plea Monday.

Richard George Alford, 67, pleaded guilty to felony driving under the influence and felony hit-and-run in the crash that killed Jeff Garske on Aug. 18, 2016. Garske was riding his bicycle on the eastbound shoulder in the Marshland Road area of the Cross Island Parkway when he was fatally struck by a 2011 Ford Pickup truck driven by Alford, South Carolina Highway Patrol officials have said.

Weeks after the fatal accident, Alford, out on bail, was charged again with a DUI on Hilton Head.

Circuit Judge Michael Nettles revoked his bond after the second DUI charge in September 2016, and Alford has been held in the Beaufort County Detention Center since. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to both DUI charges and the hit and run.

During the hearing, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone presented the facts of the case and showed Judge Roger Couch an accident reconstruction video made by the SCHP Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team.

Alford was traveling along the wide shoulder of the road that Stone said was “normally used for bicycles” when his truck struck the back of Garske’s bicycle, according to Stone.

Alford continued driving on the Cross Island Parkway before taking the Spanish Wells exit to enter the neighborhood where he lived, Stone said.

A driver who witnessed the accident followed Alford and called 911 when he parked at his home on Widewater Road, according to Stone.

When law enforcement officers arrived at Alford’s house, they found the damaged truck outside and (Alford) inside his home, according to Stone.

“You can see the damage to not only the front of the truck, but to the glass and window, and to the top of the cab of the truck,” Stone said, showing the judge a photo from the scene.

When he was questioned by police, Alford said he knew he hit something, but thought it was an overhanging tree branch or mailbox.

Garske died immediately on scene from blunt head trauma, Stone said.

Garske was remembered as an orthopedic surgeon, husband, father of two and a grandfather. He was also a Boston Marathon bombing survivor.

Garske was a beloved member of the cycling community on the island. A sculpture was created in his memory on the south end of the island and as a reminder for islanders to be more aware of cyclists when driving.

Nick Felix, an attorney speaking on behalf of the family, addressed the packed courtroom Monday.

“Dr. Garske was a well loved and well respected member of this community,” Felix said. “His friends are here this morning. His family is not here, not by desire, but rather by default. It’s been very hard for (his wife) Donna and (their children). They will not be at the sentencing hearing, either, but I didn’t want their absence to be misconstrued in any way.”

At the 2016 bond hearing, after Alford was charged with his second DUI, a friend of the family read a statement written by Garske’s daughter, Kallie Abreu-Gonzalez.

“What happened to my dad was no accident,” she wrote. “It is a conscious decision to drink and drive. He has already repeated the choices he made the night he killed my father. ... He shattered our lives.”

When asked about his occupation and family status, Alford said he was a married software salesman with grown children.

Alford will be sentenced the week of Nov. 18. He faces up to 50 years and one month in prison for the three convictions.

Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.