11-year-old girl killed in downtown crash; driver denied bond


The Charleston County Coroner's Office identified the 11-year-old girl who was killed in a downtown crash Monday night.

Selma Akguel, of Middelfart, Denmark, was the pedestrian struck and killed by an SUV at the intersection of Rutledge Avenue and Calhoun Street, according to Deputy Coroner Sheila Williams.

Akguel was visiting Charleston with her family at the time of the crash, police said.

Earlier in the afternoon, a judge denied bond Tuesday afternoon on one of the charges against the man charged in the fatal crash.

Jeffrey William Wakefield, 30, is charged with felony driving under the influence involving a death and reckless homicide, police say.

A judge set bond at $50,000 for the reckless driving charge but denied bond on the felony DUI charge, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

A public defender represented him in bond court. Police say Wakefield has a prior DUI arrest in his home state of Georgia and an extensive record of traffic offenses.

The child who was struck, an 11-year-old girl whose family was visiting Charleston from Denmark, died Tuesday morning at MUSC after she was taken off life support, Francis said.

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds expressed his outrage at a Tuesday news conference for what he called "the tragic and senseless loss of life."

"Last night at approximately 8:55, two collisions occurred involving the same driver," Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said.

The first crash happened while Wakefield was driving westbound on Morris Drive, Reynolds said. He said Wakefield struck a parked vehicle on the southbound side of Rutledge Avenue, pushing that vehicle across the sidewalk and into a retaining wall of the front yard, causing "significant damage" to that vehicle as well as the property.

Earlier, police said the parked vehicle was occupied at the time of that crash, but they later said the vehicle was not occupied.

"Mr. Wakefield chose to continue driving southbound on Rutledge Avenue, at which time he traveled at a high rate of speed through the intersection of Calhoun Drive, going onto the sidewalk and striking an 11-year-old girl who was walking with her parents," Reynolds said. "The vehicle traveled through the entire park and only stopped after striking a tree and becoming disabled."

Wakefield showed signs of impairment and failed a standardized field sobriety test at the scene, Francis said.

"After providing a breath sample, he was transported to St. Francis Hospital where he submitted blood and urine samples which will be sent to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for testing," Francis said.

Reynolds said police are also processing a search warrant for Wakefield's vehicle and are pursuing surveillance footage.

"This was preventable and should never have happened," Reynolds said. "Had this driver not struck a tree, I'm not sure he would have ever stopped."

He said he and his agency are "disgusted" over "such a senseless, preventable and tragic loss of life."

"This hurts all of us, all of us in the police department and all of us in our communities," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he is committed to the creation of a traffic committee to improve safety by focusing on the "three Es:" education, enforcement and engineering.

"National fatalities typically involve one of three factors: speeding, distracted driving and/or impaired driving," Reynolds said. "On average, an impaired driver has driven 80 times before that person's first arrest."

Reynolds extended prayers and condolences to the family of the child.

Mayor John Tecklenburg said at the news conference that every two minutes in the United States, someone is injured because of a driver who is impaired.

"Folks, we've got to put a stop to this, and if you see something, you've got to say something," Tecklenburg said, urging people to speak up if they know of anyone who is about to drive impaired, even if that person is a friend or family member. "Get 'em off of the road, save our children."

Tecklenburg said the tragedy felt personal to him because it happened only about two blocks from where he and his family lived 10 years ago. At that time, he said, his five children would have been of a similar age and playing in the area where the crash occurred.

"And just to think that on any given evening, that some car could come careening over the sidewalk and kill one of your children; I mean, there's no worse thought I have than losing a child," he said.

Reynolds said it is not clear whether alcohol specifically was involved, saying it would take time for the results of the blood and urine tests to come in.

"I can't speak to the results of the field sobriety test at the scene that were administered," he said."I can tell you there was sufficient evidence at that time to proceed, which led to us asking for and taking blood and urine samples, which led to him being charged with the charges that I've described."

Reynolds said there were some language barriers but that he learned shortly before the news conference that the 11-year-old was the family's only child. Police have since learned that information was incorrect: the couple also has two sons with them. It's not clear whether the language barrier led to that misunderstanding.

The police department is giving the victim's family support as needed.

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