COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—The South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee debated a bill Tuesday that would allow involuntary manslaughter charges against drug dealers whose drugs result in deaths.
"Certain places in the state, they will charge if someone sells fentanyl to somebody and that person then dies, they will then charge with involuntary manslaughter. But in other places they will not. So the purpose of the statute was to clarify statewide and bring about the same consequences for the same action," Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, told committee members.
Roy Davenport of Greenville started the push for the law after his 37-year-old son Scott died two years ago. Scott had struggled with addiction for about 15 years, his father says, but he’d gotten clean and stayed that way for about two years. He says Scott had movie star good looks, a genius-level IQ and a personality that lit up a room.
"Why he decided one last time to try drugs we'll never know, but what he thought, I'm sure, was heroin turned out to be fentanyl, and killed him instantly," he explains.
The bill got started after Roy had a conversation with the detective who investigated his son’s case. "I think out of my anger I said something like, 'I hope when they catch this person they throw him under the jail and throw away the key.' And his comment to me was, 'Unfortunately, Mr. Davenport, if they catch him all they can charge him with is selling drugs. They can't hold him responsible for your son's death.’ And I couldn't believe it. I said, 'You mean I can have a few drinks and get in my car and have a wreck and kill somebody accidentally and I can be charged with vehicular homicide but someone can knowingly sell drugs to somebody that kills them and they can't be held accountable for that?' So he said, 'Not in South Carolina.'"
That’s when he decided state law needed to change. Senators Mike Fair of Greenville and Wes Hayes of Rock Hill sponsored the bill initially but they both lost their re-election bids, so the bill is now being sponsored by Sen. Greg Hembree, R-N. Myrtle Beach.
But at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, there was some opposition. Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said, "What are we going to do to a gun manufacturer or a person that ends up giving a gun to someone and that person kills himself or somebody else with a gun? Are we going to charge them also with manslaughter?"
There was also concern about the proposed penalty of up to 15 years in prison. The committee carried the bill over, which gives supporters and opponents time to make changes to the bill. Sen. Hembree says he expects it to come up at the committee’s next meeting.
Roy Davenport is hoping they’ll pass the bill and it will save lives. "I would hope that drug dealers, when they realize that if I sell this and somebody dies I could go to prison for a long time, may cause them to stop and think. And, again, if it saves one life it's worth everything, ‘cause I don't want any parent to ever have to go what we've gone through."