Originally created 12/07/00

Coroner says no to inquest



AIKEN - Ending a controversy over the traffic-related death of North Augusta resident Vicki Prescott, Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend said she will not conduct an inquest into the cause of death.

"This family needs to be able to get on with their life," she said. "I signed the death certificate six months ago, and I am finished with it."

North Augusta police insist Mrs. Prescott intentionally caused the March 21 wreck that left her dead and her teen-age son injured. But after a lengthy investigation, the coroner determined the death was not a suicide, but an accident.

When the issue resurfaced in a Saturday article in The Augusta Chronicle, North Augusta Public Safety Chief Lee Weatherington called on the coroner to conduct an inquest to settle the dispute. But Mrs. Townsend said the issue is over.

"I'm not going to flaunt this family through any more," she said. "I signed the death certificate, and that's my job, and that's what I did and I stand by my case file."

Meanwhile, Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton plans to paint a white cross today on Carolina Avenue, where the wreck occurred. The cross, a tradition in Aiken County at the scene of fatal wrecks, was never painted in March.

The Prescott family did not have life insurance on Mrs. Prescott, only medical insurance. So the cause of death did not affect the family financially.

Unfortunately, the coroner said, the disagreement between her and the police chief has become personal.

"He has informed me that I can no longer use (traffic division Lt.) Tim Pearson in any investigation," she said. "I will respect his instruction on that. Fortunately, I have six other law enforcement agencies I work with."

Chief Weatherington said the suicide conclusion, issued a few days after the wreck, was based on physical evidence and statements by family and doctors.

In the coroner's report, Mrs. Townsend used interviews and documents gathered during a five-week period.

When Mrs. Prescott reportedly told her son that she was "taking him to see Jesus," she was referring to $150 worth of Jesus statues she bought the day before on her return trip from Florida, the coroner said.

In fact, the family informed the coroner and police about the statues after the accident, according to Don Prescott Sr., the victim's husband.

Mr. Prescott said his wife was not suicidal.

"I think Vicki had a lot to live for," he said. "She was not at her wit's end. She had five children, two grandchildren. She had plans to be with them, watch them grow up."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.