Originally created 09/22/96

Hill's downward spiral

David Mark Hill's downward spiral started on a dusty Augusta road in 1979, on a day he lost control of the family truck, wrecked and killed his sister.

"That really has taken its toll (on Mr. Hill)," said Al Duval, who has attended church with the Hill family for 20 years.

Five years after his sister's death, Mr. Hill pleaded guilty in Arizona to felony child abuse charges, for abusing his then-21-month-old son, Nicholas, from a first marriage. A judge later reduced the charges to a misdemeanor.

Then, last year, his daughter Rebecca, now 4, was paralyzed in a car accident when his second wife, Jacqueline, crashed into a truck.

Friends say Mr. Hill hasn't been all right since.

Now police say Mr. Hill is the man who gunned down three Department of Social Services caseworkers Monday in their North Augusta office. DSS agents placed Rebecca in custody two weeks ago after Mrs. Hill was charged with driving under the influence and child endangerment.

Mr. Hill shot himself in the mouth Tuesday morning and remains in serious condition at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. He is heavily guarded.

When he recovers somewhat, police will serve him with five felony warrants - three counts of murder and one count each of kidnapping and assault and battery with intent to kill - and extradite him to South Carolina.

"He's not going anywhere," said Sgt. Tim Pearson of North Augusta Public Safety.

Mr. Hill's life, as drawn from public records, news clippings and interviews with friends and police, has been a long stretch of not managing to get much of anywhere. For every misfortune or pure accident that has befallen the 36-year-old or his family, there is a deliberate wrongdoing or blunder.

But it's the two traffic accidents - his in 1979 and Rebecca's in 1995 - that tormented Mr. Hill, Mr. Duval said.

Around 6:30 a.m. on April 10, 1979, Mr. Hill, then 18, was driving his father's truck down McDade Farm Road near the Hill's Hephzibah home. His 19-year-old sister Margaret was a passenger.

Mr. Hill told police he was blinded by the sun and the truck skidded out of control when he jammed on the brakes. The truck skidded into a ditch, then overturned. His sister was thrown halfway out of the passenger window by the initial impact with the ditch. She died when the truck rolled over onto her side.

Richmond County records do not show Mr. Hill was charged in the accident and the only criminal conviction on his record is the child abuse charge.

A current neighbor of the Hill family, Connie Gnann, said the family still talks about the accident and Margaret's death.

The Hills have an unlisted phone number and the house on Bridle Path Drive sits back far from the road, guarded by a "No Trespassing" sign at the foot of the driveway.

Mr. Hill had graduated from Hephzibah High School in 1978, according to Richmond County school records, and decided after his sister's death to leave Augusta. He became a missionary for the Church of Latter-day Saints and moved out West.

While living in Flagstaff, Ariz., Mr. Hill pleaded guilty to abusing Nicholas, now about 14 years old, on March 6, 1984. His first wife, Dian, had taken out a restraining order against him then, but that was dropped with the plea.

The courts sentenced Mr. Hill to seven days in jail, plus the seven he had already served and gave him 60 days probation. He was ordered to get counseling in Georgia, where the Hills planned to return.

The Hills came back to the Augusta area but soon found their financial life in dire straits. Mr. Hill and Dian declared bankruptcy in 1986 and lost their home to foreclosure in 1988.

Throughout this time, Richmond County records show numerous minor traffic charges for Mr. Hill, from speeding and running a stop sign to driving without proof of insurance in January this year.

In March, he was charged with minor traffic violations in Edgefield County and booked into the county jail. Mr. Hill was stopped at a road check set up by the South Carolina Department of Highway Patrol and officials say he was charged with having no driver's license and no vehicle tag.

On May 24, 1991, Mr. Hill married Jacqueline, whom he met while working at Amoco chemical plant. The two filed a federal lawsuit against the company in 1992, alleging she was a sexual harassment victim and he was denied a raise and severance pay because of the fallout of her complaints. The Hills settled with Amoco in a confidential agreement in March 1995.

But then, another accident.

Rebecca's paralysis from the September 1995 accident weighed heavily on the Hills, friends say. Mr. Hill tried suicide four times this year, most recently on Tuesday, after the DSS killings, friends and police said. Mrs. Hill took out a restraining order on him after a July 21 suicide attempt.

On Sept. 10, Mrs. Hill wrecked their truck while driving their twin 2-year-old boys in Aiken County. She was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and child endangerment, with both charges still pending, said Barbara Morgan, Aiken County solicitor.

That's when DSS stepped in and took Rebecca into custody. The twins went to stay with Mrs. Hill's parents in Anderson, S.C.

Less than two weeks later, three DSS caseworkers are dead and Mr. Hill lies in his hospital bed, awaiting triple murder charges.

Staff Writer Kathy Steele contributed to this article.


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