Christopher Cooper fled the scene after he crashed an SUV in Conway in 2016 leaving his best friend clinging to life, face down in the dirt.
“Why would you leave someone you love on the side of the road …?” asked Jamie Lilley, the mother of Tristan Marino, who died in the wreck.
“My son was left on the side of the road face down, and he ran. If he would have stayed, the outcome of all of this would have been different,” she said. “I know he died alone, by himself at 20 years old.”
That decision to run will now cost Cooper at least one year of freedom. On Thursday, Cooper pleaded guilty to reckless homicide. Horry County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Culbertson sentenced him to one year in prison and then four years on probation.
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If Cooper, 32, violates his probation he faces a total of seven years in prison.
Police initially charged Cooper with DUI with death, but Senior Assistant Solicitor Lauree Richardson said they lost a blood test taken from Cooper at the hospital. As a result, the state agreed to the reckless homicide plea. A count of leaving the scene of an accident with death was dismissed.
Cooper pleaded guilty with the Alford caveat, which is when a defendant pleads guilty, but doesn’t have to tell the judge details of the crime.
Richardson said the single-vehicle wreck happened July 3 around 4 a.m., and both Marino and Cooper were ejected from the SUV. Cooper briefly fled, but fell nearby because of his injuries.
As Richardson described Marino laying in a field, Lilley started to cry and put her head down as she sat in the first row of the courtroom.
Marino was on life support for four days.
“July 7 my world was shattered,” she said. “I had to turn the machine off and watch my son take his last four breaths.”
Cooper only spoke briefly to the court to share a message with Lilley, “I love her and her family and she knows this.”
Defense attorney Morgan Martin said Cooper is remorseful for what happened, though he doesn’t remember much of the incident. The defense asked for probation.
“There is a genuine regret for all that transpired with Chris,” Martin said.
Lilley described the crash as an “accident,” and she is now raising Marino’s newborn daughter, who will never know her father.
“I cry every single day,” Lilley said.