A man accused of killing two people after crashing into their motorcycle near Landrum last year was sentenced to 15 years in prison Tuesday.
Harley Simms Beck, 43, of Fountain Inn, pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide in exchange for having the felony DUI resulting in death charges against him dismissed.
He received consecutive 10-year prison sentences, suspended to 15 years in prison and five years of probation, from Spartanburg County Circuit Judge Derham Cole.
Beck was driving on Highway 14 near Lexington Road when he ran into the back of a Harley Davidson on April 26, 2016.
The motorcycle driver, James Blackwell, 32, of Travelers Rest, was severely injured and taken to a hospital, where he died eight days later. Chloe Allison Duncan, 19, of Travelers Rest, who was a passenger on the motorcycle, died at the scene.
Beck refused to take a field sobriety test at the crash site when S.C. Highway Patrol troopers arrived.
Seventh Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette said when Beck’s blood was tested later, he was found to have alcohol, Valium and Xanax in his system.
But a delay in the processing of the blood test likely would have made it difficult for prosecutors to get felony DUI convictions, said Solicitor’s Office spokesman Murray Glenn.
“There were some motions by the defense that challenged the validity of the blood draw on the case, and we know from experience that the blood draw could have easily been thrown out,” Glenn said. “The defense motion said samples weren’t delivered to SLED in a timely manner for testing.”
Two felony DUI convictions would have meant Beck faced up to 50 years in prison, rather than the maximum of 20 years for the two reckless homicide convictions.
“It’s a difficult position to be in. We explained the legal options with how to proceed (to the Blackwell and Duncan families) and moved forward as a group,” Glenn said. “We hope today’s outcome helps them in their recovery.”
Blackwell and Duncan were longtime family friends, and Blackwell’s parents helped raise Duncan.
Family members were emotional as they urged Cole to give Beck the maximum sentence.
Jud Blackwell, James Blackwell’s father, broke down in tears while reading his prepared statement.
He talked about his son’s job, hobbies and side business mowing lawns.
“He deserves to be heard from, even though he can’t speak,” Jud Blackwell said.
Sheila Blackwell, James Blackwell’s mother, said her son spent the first 18 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit to overcome an illness. That time, she said, he made a miraculous recovery. But when he was in intensive care after the crash, the situation was different, she said.
“When we walked into the hospital, we literally knew then he was not going to make it,” Sheila Blackwell said through sobs.
Duncan’s mother, Lilly Duncan, her hands shaking, told the court Beck made a choice to get behind the wheel. Now Beck still has a life, but her daughter does not, she said.
“There are no words to express the pain and hardship my family is experiencing. Chloe was my life. Chloe was God’s gift to me and the world,” she said.
“I will never see my baby sister again. … Nothing will ever be the same,” said Samantha Duncan, Chloe Duncan’s older sister.
Prosecutors had gathered witness statements, highway patrol reports, expert opinions on crash reconstruction, a recorded telephone call from jail that Beck had with his wife and photos of Duncan’s body at the scene, among other materials that would have been used at trial.
“There was no evidence of braking,” Barnette said.
Beck told Cole he only had a ninth-grade education due to “parent issues.” He did not obtain his GED, he told Cole, but has been married for 25 years and has owned a successful home repair business.
He had no prior criminal record.
Before his sentencing, Beck told Cole he hadn’t seen the motorcycle because it was in his blind spot.
“It was a terrible, terrible accident,” Beck said. “I’m a loving person. I’ve always been a loving person.”