State v. Dantonio, No. 4333.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation658 S.E.2d 337,376 S.C. 594
PartiesSTATE of South Carolina, Respondent, v. Stanley DANTONIO, Jr., Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 4333.
Decision Date16 January 2008
658 S.E.2d 337
376 S.C. 594
STATE of South Carolina, Respondent,
v.
Stanley DANTONIO, Jr., Appellant.
No. 4333.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard January 9, 2008.
Decided January 16, 2008.
Rehearing Denied March 25, 2008.

[658 S.E.2d 339]

Wesley Locklair of Murrells Inlet, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry D. McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Special Assistant Attorney Salley W. Elliott, Special Assistant Attorney General Amie L. Clifford, of Columbia; and Solicitor J. Gregory Hembree, of Conway, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.:


Stanley Dantonio appeals his conviction on two counts of felony driving under the influence. He argues the trial court erred in failing to direct a verdict in his favor and in instructing the jury on proximate cause. We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Dantonio was involved in a three-car collision on December 30, 2004 resulting in two fatalities. The accident occurred between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. on Highway 17 by-pass near Murrells Inlet. The Jeep Dantonio was driving struck a Honda driven by Katinka Mandoza as she turned into the right lane of Highway 17 by-pass. After hitting Mandoza, Dantonio's Jeep crossed the median and collided with an oncoming vehicle. The driver of the oncoming car, Elise Anne Anderson, and her passenger, Derrick Michael Labar, were killed.

Dantonio had been drinking with friends at the Dead Dog Saloon since about 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the accident. At approximately 9:35 p.m., Dantonio paid the bar tab for his party of four. Thirty-seven beers were charged to Dantonio's bill. Bartender Diane Tracy testified she was concerned about Dantonio's ability to drive, but felt reassured when she learned his wife had the keys to the Jeep in her possession. Nevertheless, Dantonio was driving at the time of the accident. A blood sample drawn from Dantonio at 12:35 a.m., on December 31, 2004, revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .114. Authorities arrested Dantonio at the hospital for felony driving under the influence.

Corporals Dangerfield, Breland, and Jarrett of the South Carolina Highway Patrol Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (M.A.I.T.) were qualified as experts in the field of collision reconstruction. The team concluded neither roadway nor weather conditions caused the collision. Dantonio appeared to be driving at a minimum of eighty-five (85) miles per hour in a fifty-five (55) mile per hour zone. His speed and the fact that Dantonio was driving under the influence contributed to the accident. The driver of the Honda was not responsible for the collision because she stopped at the stop sign and saw Dantonio's Jeep at least 343 feet down the roadway before she pulled out into the intersection. An animation expert reported the data collected showed the collision would not have occurred if Dantonio had been driving fifty-five (55) miles per hour.

658 S.E.2d 340

At the close of the State's case, Dantonio moved for a directed verdict of not guilty, arguing the jury could not find beyond a reasonable doubt speed was the proximate cause of the collision. Dantonio averred the trial court should remove the question from the jury by directing the verdict because the evidence did not support a conclusion Dantonio's speed was the only cause of the accident.

The trial court denied Dantonio's directed verdict motion, clarifying the ruling:

[A]s I understand the law on a motion for directed verdict, the defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the State fails to produce evidence of the offense charged, and the trial court is charged with the duty that, in reviewing a motion for a directed verdict the trial judge is concerned with the existence of the evidence, not its weight. In other words, if there is direct evidence, or substantial circumstantial evidence, reasonably tending to prove the guilt of the accused, the case should go forward, and that is the standard that I'm using, and I want to make that clear, because I understand that to be the directed verdict standard.

Now, with that I have made some excerpts from the testimony, as I have heard it in this particular case. Ms. Diane Tracy indicated she had questions about the Defendant's condition, and was told the wife had the keys. Ms. Mandoza indicated the accident had happened at night, but that night did not cause a problem to her; she was on the phone with a girlfriend, with an ear piece; that did not cause a problem with her; she was driving a stick-shift; that was not a problem to her; the Defendant was in the other lane, the fast lane; that wasn't a problem; her windows were fogged up, but she rolled one [down], that's not a problem for her; she looks left, right, left, sees the headlights by the cinema sign, and her testimony, as I heard it was, I figured it was safe enough to pull out in front of the Defendant. She says she stopped at the stop sign. She indicates that she was, in no way, responsible for the accident.

Now, whether or not this testimony is believable or not, whether the Court believes it or not, whether it's human nature to deny responsibility for a horrendous accident, or any cause to it, that's not my job. That's the jury's job. I'm concerned with the existence of evidence in this matter.

Further evidence in this case. There is a stipulation of facts. Two young people died as a result of this accident. Mr. Summers stated the Defendant had an odor of alcohol. He stated that—to Mr. Summers that he had a couple of beers. Corporal Dangerfield stated—though there were different accounts of what occurred, it's very difficult to calculate speed, the—and he indicated the collision occurred in the right lane. Corporal Breland, qualified to give his opinion, stated that the weather was no problem; the road conditions were good; the site and distance were good. He concluded the Defendant was driving eighty-five miles an hour. He said speed contributed to the accident. Corroborated—he said the evidence corroborated drinking; speed at the impact was fifty-five miles an hour. He stated he assumed Ms. Mandoza had stopped at the stop sign. He stated if the Defendant was going fifty-five miles an hour there would have been no wreck. Corporal Jarrett says that a computer animation is a visual representation of what we believe happened; the wreck would not have happened if the Defendant was going fifty-five miles an hour; the Defendant was in the right lane and made an effort to steer away from Ms. Mandoza. Trooper Hughes: The Defendant, at the hospital, had a strong smell of alcohol about him. Ms Barber: The blood alcohol level was zero point one one four at 12:35 A.M., significantly after the accident; the permissive level is zero point zero eight. That being a brief summation of the testimony in this case, there is no question, in this Court's mind that, looking at the existence of evidence that, if that evidence was believed by the jury, there is enough evidence to prove the Defendant guilty of the crimes charged, and at this point in time

658 S.E.2d 341

the Court respectfully declines to grant your motion for a directed verdict.

At the close of all evidence, Dantonio renewed his motion for a directed verdict, professing Mandoza's act of entering the highway played a role in the collision and would preclude a jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt Dantonio's speed was the proximate cause of the collision. The trial court denied Dantonio's motion:

Once again, the Court believes its responsibility, in response to a directed verdict motion, is on this basis, that the defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the State fails to produce evidence of the offense charged, and the trial judge is concerned with the existence of evidence, not with its weight. If there is direct evidence or substantial circumstantial evidence reasonably tending to prove the [guilt] of the defendant, the case must be submitted to the jury.

I'm not going to go back and review all of that testimony. I did at the end of the State's case. I just reaffirm that rendition of the facts I previously gave.

Further, in addition to that, I find that the evidence presented thereafter only supports the finding by this Court that there is more than sufficient evidence, if believed by the jury—that being their job, to judge the credibility and believability of the witnesses—but there has been testimony and evidence presented, if believed by the jury, that would prove the Defendant guilty of the crimes charged by the State, and therefore I would respectfully decline to grant your motion for a directed verdict.

On the definition of proximate cause, the trial court instructed the jury:

Proximate cause is the direct cause, the immediate cause, the efficient cause, the cause without which the death would not have resulted. Now, there may be more than one proximate cause. The acts of two or more persons may combine together to be a proximate cause of the death of a person. The Defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is the direct cause to the death of the victim. The fact that other causes also contribute to the death of the victim does not relieve the Defendant from responsibility. The Defendant's act need not be the sole cause of death, but it has to be the direct cause, without which the death of the victim would not have resulted, and this has to be proved to you by the State of South Carolina beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dantonio objected to the proximate cause charge:

I believe that the law, the actual law here should be that, unless Mr. D'Antonio is at least fifty-one percent—and I would argue much more—but at least fifty-one percent the proximate cause, that it would be improper for there to be a finding of guilt.

. . .

I would prefer, and feel like it would be more appropriate and more accurately reflect the law if, added to the word direct, the word main or primary were added, then we would insure that all of us were...

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8 practice notes
  • State v. Prather, Appellate Case No. 2014-001500
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 6 Septiembre 2017
    ...denied Prather's motion for a directed verdict because evidence supported submitting this issue to the jury. See State v. Dantonio , 376 S.C. 594, 605, 658 S.E.2d 337, 343 (Ct. App. 2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death o......
  • Layman v. State, No. 26427.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 28 Enero 2008
    ...$ 765.00 Brady R. Thomas 5.5 N/A $200.00 $ 1,100.00 Paralegals 288.3 N/A $ 80.00 $ 23,064.00 Law Clerks 120.3 N/A $ 70.00 $ 8,421.00 658 S.E.2d 337 R.A. Harpootlian, Richard A. Harpootlian 143.4 N/A $600.00 $ 71,700.00 Graham Newman 29.8 N/A $250.00 $ 7,450.00 Heather Herron 55.0 N/A $ 80.0......
  • State v. Leger, No. 2017-K-2084
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • 26 Junio 2019
    ...accident and of the victim's death"). At least one other state equates a proximate cause and a contributing cause. See State v. Dantonio , 376 S.C. 594, 658 S.E.2d 337 (2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death of the decease......
  • Robinson v. Warden, C/A No.: 4:15-cv-3703-HMH-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 5 Mayo 2016
    ...and recommendation is entered for review by the district judge. 2. See S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2945(A)(2). Also, cf. State v. Dantonio, 376 S.C. 594, 605, 658 S.E.2d 337, 343 (Ct. App. 2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • State v. Prather, Appellate Case No. 2014-001500
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 6 Septiembre 2017
    ...denied Prather's motion for a directed verdict because evidence supported submitting this issue to the jury. See State v. Dantonio , 376 S.C. 594, 605, 658 S.E.2d 337, 343 (Ct. App. 2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death o......
  • Layman v. State, No. 26427.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 28 Enero 2008
    ...$ 765.00 Brady R. Thomas 5.5 N/A $200.00 $ 1,100.00 Paralegals 288.3 N/A $ 80.00 $ 23,064.00 Law Clerks 120.3 N/A $ 70.00 $ 8,421.00 658 S.E.2d 337 R.A. Harpootlian, Richard A. Harpootlian 143.4 N/A $600.00 $ 71,700.00 Graham Newman 29.8 N/A $250.00 $ 7,450.00 Heather Herron 55.0 N/A $ 80.0......
  • State v. Leger, No. 2017-K-2084
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • 26 Junio 2019
    ...accident and of the victim's death"). At least one other state equates a proximate cause and a contributing cause. See State v. Dantonio , 376 S.C. 594, 658 S.E.2d 337 (2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death of the decease......
  • Robinson v. Warden, C/A No.: 4:15-cv-3703-HMH-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 5 Mayo 2016
    ...and recommendation is entered for review by the district judge. 2. See S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2945(A)(2). Also, cf. State v. Dantonio, 376 S.C. 594, 605, 658 S.E.2d 337, 343 (Ct. App. 2008) ("A defendant's act may be regarded as the proximate cause if it is a contributing cause of the death ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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