Driver gets bond in cyclist's death

Lawyer: Man's only record is one of service

AIKEN --- Daniel Johnson shuffled into the small courtroom Wednesday, eyes focused on the floor, then on Magistrate Bond Judge Danny Lynn.

He listened in silence as attorney Jim Huff argued why he should be released on his own recognizance for reckless homicide. Johnson is charged in the Oct. 1 wreck that killed a bicyclist, Dr. Matthew Burke, on Beech Island Avenue.

Johnson, 41, has lived in the county 31 years. He's a Sunday school teacher. He coaches the church's volleyball team. He's a former EMT who works for Aiken County Emergency Management.

"His whole life has been to serve the county," Huff said.

Lynn considered Johnson's background and lack of a criminal record in setting a bond of $50,000. As conditions of the bond, Johnson cannot make contact with the family of Burke, either personally or through a third party.

Johnson surrendered Tuesday night at the Aiken County Detention Center after a warrant was issued for a charge of reckless homicide.

Johnson, who lives in the 400 block of Beech Island Avenue, struck five cyclists with his Dodge Durango about 6:40 p.m. four months ago. Burke, 38, was critically injured and died Sunday evening.

The arrest warrant says that the group of about 15 cyclists was "legally in the roadway" and that Johnson's driving was "grossly negligent which caused the death of Mr. Matthew Burke."

On Wednesday, Huff called the incident "a very sad accident."

The South Carolina Highway Patrol finished its investigation "several weeks ago," 2nd Circuit Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. said Wednesday.

Thurmond said a charge of reckless driving was possible, but if Johnson pleaded guilty or was convicted of the charge, it would have made it much harder to press the current charge of reckless homicide.

"A double jeopardy argument could have been made," said Thurmond, referring to the constitutional amendment that protects citizens from being charged with the same crime twice.

He said his office was "certainly hoping" Burke would recover, but added, "It's illogical to serve a warrant for reckless homicide if the victim is still alive."

Asked about a reckless driving charge for the four other cyclists injured, Thurmond said that was a decision to be made on the magistrate level.

Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, didn't have an immediate answer Wednesday about the potential for other charges.

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