Six fatalities, two drownings and four house fires this weekend in the Myrtle Beach area

troot@thesunnews.comJune 23, 2014 

It was a busy weekend along the Grand Strand with fatal crashes, drownings and house fires, according to emergency officials.

In five crashes six people were killed on area roadways, two people drowned and Horry County firefighters battled four blazes this weekend.

Six of the 10 people killed on state roadways since Friday were in Horry and Georgetown counties, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Two men were charged in connection with two of the fatal crashes, while the rest remain under investigation, said Cpl. Sonny Collins with the highway patrol.

On Friday, three people were killed in two separate crashes and one man was charged in connection, authorities said. Three people were killed in three separate crashes on Saturday.

“When you look at the fatalities this weekend, they were so spread out and were of different causes,” Collins said. “We are in the 100 deadly days of summer, so more people are out . . . in Horry County this is the peak travel season, so people need to pay attention and watch for pedestrians.”

Through Sunday, there have been 25 people killed in Horry County, according to highway patrol. During the same time last year officials had recorded 28 deaths and 22 deaths each in 2012 and 2011.

In the first crash, Lance Cpl. Judd Jones said two women were killed about 9:20 p.m. Friday in a head-on crash on Secondary Highway 19.

Cassandra McAllister-Smith, 44, of Loris was driving a 1996 Chevy Tahoe north on Secondary Highway 19 when Leah Buffkin, 22, of Mullins, who was driving a 2004 Ford Explore south, crossed the centerline and struck the Tahoe, authorities said.

Both women died at the scene from internal injuries they suffered in the crash.

Later Friday at 11:50 p.m., Edward Whitis, 55, of Loris died after his bicycle was struck by a vehicle driven by Derron Aarron Gilchrist, 20, of Conway, authorities said. Both men were traveling north on S.C. 45.

Gilchrist was charged with felony driving under the influence with death results and booked into J. Reuben Long Detention Center at 3:30 a.m. Saturday, according to jail records. Gilchrist, who was taken to Loris Community Hospital with minor injuries, remains jailed on $25,000 bond.

At 2:10 a.m. Saturday, authorities were called to Secondary Highway 1113, which is located behind Thee Dollhouse on U.S. 17 in Atlantic Beach where Renee Hardee, 49, of Mullins died after she was struck by a vehicle.

William Lee Strickland, 56, of Nichols was charged with felony DUI with death results and booked into the detention center at 6 a.m. Saturday, according to jail records. Strickland, who was not hurt, was released on $25,000 bail at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.

Hardee was a pedestrian and tried to get into Strickland’s vehicle when she fell and was struck by the vehicle, Judd said.

In Georgetown County, at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Antonio Lara Cortes, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene of a single-vehicle crash, said Georgetown County Deputy Coroner Paulette Radcliffe.

Cortes was driving a 2001 Ford pickup truck east along Brick Chimney Road when he ran off the road, hit an embankment and overturned, Judd said. Cortes was not wearing a seatbelt and was partially thrown from the vehicle.

Two hours later Saturday in Horry County, authorities were called to U.S. 17 near Myrtle Beach Mall where a 2007 Dodge sport utility vehicle was traveling north and struck a motorized scooter, also going north, Judd said. The 20-year-old woman driving the SUV was not hurt and was wearing a seatbelt.

William David Todd, 56, was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries he suffered in the crash, Horry County coroner Robert Edge said. Todd had family in the North Myrtle Beach area, Edge said.

Also on Friday and Saturday, authorities responded to two people who drowned in separate incidents in Conway and Myrtle Beach.

In the first incident, Conway authorities were called Friday night to the pool at The Cove at Coastal Carolina, an apartment complex on S.C. 544.

Kayla Simmons was swimming in a pool Friday night and when a witness returned to the pool area about 15 minutes later, she was found unresponsive. She was taken to Conway Medical Center where she was pronounced dead from an accidental drowning Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler said.

In the second incident about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Myrtle Beach authorities were called to Ninth Avenue North area where a 40-year-old man was pulled from the ocean after he was found floating face down in the surf.

Steven Scott Bloomer Jr., died while being treated at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center about an hour after the incident, authorities said.

In a police report, officers said witnesses saw Bloomer floating in the surf, pulled him to shore and performed CPR until EMS arrived. Bloomer’s friend told officers they came to the beach and were waiting to check into their hotel so they got into the water.

Bloomer’s friend said they were about chest deep and then walked up to sit in the edge of the water, according to the report. The friend said Bloomer complained of feeling nauseous, and reported they ate pizza before arriving at the beach.

The friend told police he stood and told Bloomer to sit in the sand, and he walked up to their area, according to the report. The friend said he turned around and didn’t see Bloomer, so he walked back toward the water and approached someone he thought was Bloomer, but it wasn’t. The friend said he then saw a group of people aiding Bloomer.

Horry County firefighters didn’t have much down time with four unrelated fires in 36 hours, said Justin Gibbins, Horry County Fire Rescue assistant chief.

“It was taxing on them running multiple calls,” Gibbins said of the crews who responded to the blazes. “We’ve been busy, very busy.”

In the first call Saturday afternoon, crews were called to Silvercrest Drive, which is off Carolina Forest Boulevard, for a house fire, Gibbins said. The cause to the blaze was a lightning strike.

Soon after the first call, firefighters were called to two homes on Six Lakes Drive in Carolina Lakes, Gibbins said. Those homes also were struck by lightning and crews had to investigate the homes because they had outlets sparking inside, but no active fire.

Later that afternoon, crews were called to Turkey Ridge in the Deerfield community for a kitchen fire, Gibbins said. The cause of that blaze was from unattended cooking.

About 1 a.m. Sunday, firefighters were called for a three-alarm blaze at a former schoolhouse that had been converted into a home on S.C. 319, Gibbins said. The building, which was about 4,000-square-feet, sustained significant damage and was fully involved and deemed a three-alarm fire based on its size and the manpower needed to get it under control.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but it was not weather-related, Gibbins said.

Early Monday, crews were called at 3:15 a.m. to Holly Lane in Gale Acres, which is off S.C. 544, for a singlewide mobile home fire, Gibbins said. The home was well involved with fire and the cause remains under investigation.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or on Twitter @tonyaroot.

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