Crime & Public Safety

Lawsuit: Levy fire chief’s negligence led to motorcyclist’s death

The family of a Savannah man killed in motorcycle accident near Hardeeville late last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jasper County and the volunteer fire department that responded to the wreck.

Ian Richard Nicholson, 32, was killed Oct. 9 after he was hit by a box truck on S.C. 315 near U.S. 17.

The civil suit — filed late last month by Devon Hassan, the mother of Nicholson’s daughter and representative of his estate — claims Nicholson “was alive and … trapped underneath the box truck” when Levy Volunteer Fire Department personnel, including Fire Chief Doug Graham, arrived on scene.

“Upon his arrival at the scene of the collision, (Graham) ordered … the truck be driven off (Nicholson’s body) while he was alive, thereby causing catastrophic injuries to (Nicholson), which caused his death,” the lawsuit contends.

Graham “knew or should have known (Nicholson) was alive,” the suit says. Ordering the truck driven off the body was “reckless … and grossly negligent.”

Hassan is represented by Bluffton-based attorney and Beaufort County Councilman Tabor Vaux.

“Obviously there is a lot of anger and disgust,” Vaux said Tuesday, speaking on behalf of the family.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Graham would not confirm or deny whether Nicholson was dead when he arrived at the accident, saying, “I’m not going to comment on (the lawsuit) right now.”

Because the fire department is a county-operated entity, Jasper County was named as a defendant in the suit.

Jasper County administrator Andrew Fulghum said Tuesday that “no one at the county is able to comment on active litigation.”

As part of the S.C. Highway Patrol’s investigation of the accident, Trooper Todd Proctor of the agency’s Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team spoke with off-duty New York City emergency medical technician John Scourakis about a month after the wreck.

The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have obtained audio of this conversation.

Scourakis said he was traveling through the area on his way to Savannah.

He said he was just a few cars away from the box truck when it struck Nicholson’s motorcycle and traffic began backing up.

After calling 911, Scourakis said he ran over to help Nicholson.

Nicholson was “was pinned under the rear tires” of the box truck and “still alive when I made contact with him,” Scourakis said.

When Levy fire crews, led by Graham, arrived shortly afterward, it was decided to drive the truck off Nicholson’s body rather than use equipment to lift the truck and slide Nicholson out, Scourakis said.

“Never in my 20 years as a medic on the job have I ever seen that,” he told the Highway Patrol investigator.

Scourakis said Graham “started a scuffle with me” when Scourakis protested.

Ultimately, Graham “got the driver of the truck to start up the truck, and he drove over the patient,” Scourakis said. “When he did that … (the truck) crushed his entire pelvis, and the patient went into traumatic arrest right then and there.”

Nicholson died very soon after, he said.

Scourakis “was shocked by the whole experience,” he told Proctor. “It was very disheartening.”

“I’m not going to say that the chief is a killer, … but what he did was negligent,” Scourakis said.

Vaux said “the biggest question (Nicholson’s family) has is ‘Why?’ 

“Why not use the equipment that they had on scene?” he asked rhetorically. “What kind of first responder would act like that when (other EMTs) are trying to save the guy?”

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