Man Targeted Funeral Because of Problem with SC State Agency, Police Say

A 64-year-old man has been charged with 12 counts of attempted murder after police say he drove his car into a crowd of mourners at the Greenlawn cemetery.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia police now say a man targeted a funeral for a Columbia woman because of resentment he had with South Carolina's mental health agency. 

James Kester, 64, appeared in court Thursday morning, where a judge set bond for him at $5 million. When he complained that the bond was too "steep," the judge asked if he wanted him to raise it, but the suspect quickly said no. 

Kester is facing a total of 12 counts of attempted murder related to the crime. 

Police say the victims, who were all part of the same family, were attending a graveside service Wednesday afternoon at Greenlawn Cemetery on Garners Ferry Road when they were struck by Kesler's sedan.

Police now have revealed that Kester had resentment for the Department of Mental Health over an issue involving his now deceased daughter. The funeral at Greenlawn, it turns out, was for a woman who had worked for the agency for a long time. Apparently, he'd learned that the funeral was taking place that day.

Investigators told the judge the man asked mourners if the funeral was for the former mental health employee, and they said yes. However, the family said that he used the woman's first name, which was different from what family and friends called her, which they thought was odd at the time.

A few minutes later, officers say he drove his car into the group.

VIDEO: Family Members Describe Attack as 'Surreal' 

"The next thing we know is this car turned sharp right and just hit the gas and plowed into the middle of where everyone was standing," said Tamatha Altman, one of the family members who was there and who spoke in court Thursday.

"Everything that ensued after that was just mass chaos. He went 100 or more feet and his car looked like it was going to turn and head back but fortunately, thank God, he  hit a tombstone or either got bogged down into the dirt, I'm not sure he ended up stopping 

VIDEO: Drone shows scene of where car hit family at Columbia funeral 

While officers think he targeted the funeral because of the grudge, they do not believe that he knew any of the family members. 

"It looked like something that was on TV or in a movie," Altman said. "Just nothing you think is every going to happen. You're already there mourning a loved one and just this random act of violence just hits your family and your friends. It's just unreal."

The victims all had what are described as non life-threatening injuries, and were taken to the hospital for treatment. Altman said the six family members are still in the hospital and are having surgery. One of them is in intensive care with a head injury.

At least one family member had their legs run over, and another was dragged on top of the vehicle. Other injuries include broken arms, legs, a shoulder and a hip. The victims ranged in age from 78 to 10 years old.

The 10-year-old has broken arms.

If Kesler makes bond, he cannot have contact with the victims, cannot drive, and will have to wear a GPS monitor.

Greenlawn was closed for the day, but reopened Thursday. 

 

© 2017 WLTX-TV


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