Originally created 01/18/00

Edgefield father, baby killed in collision



A 76-year-old Georgia man who was driving a tractor-trailer slammed head-on into a sport utility vehicle Monday on South Carolina Highway 19, killing an Edgefield, S.C., man and his infant son, authorities said.

Mitchell E. Smith, 31, and his 3-month-old son Dylan died almost instantly in the 1:30 p.m. collision. Mr. Smith's wife, Mary, was sitting in the back seat with the child and survived the wreck. She suffered a broken leg and other injuries and was undergoing surgery Monday evening at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

The accident shut down a section of Highway 19 near Interstate 20 for half the day, causing authorities to reroute traffic for six hours.

Witnesses told police the tractor-trailer driver, Richard Ellis of Savannah, was trying to avoid rear-ending a vehicle that had stopped in his southbound lane to turn. Mr. Ellis slammed on his brakes, then swerved into the northbound lane to avoid a collision but crashed into the driver's side of the oncoming 1995 Chevrolet Tahoe.

Cheryl Oberman of Aiken was driving the vehicle that had stopped to turn. "The 18-wheeler evidently wasn't watching me turn," she said.

Mr. Ellis walked away from the accident with minor injuries, authorities said. He was treated at MCG, where he was listed in fair condition Monday night.

Before emergency crews could extricate Mr. Smith and his son from the wreckage, they were declared dead.

The collision crushed the driver's side of the family's sport utility vehicle, pushing Mr. Smith and the driver's seat into the back seat area where the baby was strapped into a safety seat.

Witnesses said Mrs. Smith stumbled out of the vehicle with a broken left leg. Eric Lyles of Graniteville came upon the accident and saw the woman sitting near a ditch.

"She said, `Don't worry about me. Just take care of my husband and baby,"' he said.

Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton said the couple were apparently returning to Edgefield from Aiken, where they were working on refinancing their home.

"They were doing all the right things -- seat belts, the mother sitting in the back seat with the child," Mr. Carlton said. "But when you go head to head with a semi ... you're going to have problems."

Mrs. Smith is a nurse at Augusta's Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Mr. Smith was on disability.

No charges will be filed until an investigation is completed by the South Carolina Highway Patrol's Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team, patrol Sgt. Jones Gamble said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.