Investigators: Benjamin not impaired after crash

Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin involved in accident Wednesday morning. / Photo: Eric Roach

Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin was involved in a car crash early Wednesday morning.

The crash happened just hours after Benjamin had been declared the winner in Columbia's mayoral election and the city's first African-American mayor.

Richland County emergency officials say the incident happened on the corner of Gervais and Pickens around 5:45 a.m. when Benjamin's Mercedes SUV collided with another car. The female driver of the Toyota Tercel, identified by a co-worker as Deborah Rubens, was transported by EMS to Palmetto Health and is listed in fair condition.

Benjamin was not injured according to his spokesman Michael Wukela. He was checked out on the scene by EMS personnel, but later went to a doctor as a precautionary measure.

Benjamin issued a statement just before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday saying:

"I continue to be concerned about the health of the lady who was driving the other car involved in this morning TMs accident. We have contacted the hospital in hopes of visiting her." "Privacy laws, however, prevent the hospital from releasing her name or even acknowledging that she is a patient at this time."

"Because of my position as Mayor-Elect, I requested that the city ask another law enforcement agency to participate in the investigation to avoid the appearance of favoritism. It would be inappropriate for me to comment before they have finished their work."

"In the meantime, my wife DeAndrea and I continue to pray for the complete recovery of the injured lady. We ask every citizen of Columbia to do the same."

Wukela tells us that the mayor-elect had not been drinking during Tuesday night's celebration. Benjamin had a room at the Hilton where he slept.

Benjamin was on his way to morning interviews with the media when the crash happened. Wukela says Benjamin was wide awake when he spoke with him earlier in the morning.

WACH Fox asked why the mayor-elect didn't volunteer for a breathalyzer to avoid any future speculation on whether alcohol may have been involved. Wukela explained that he was simply concerned about the injured woman's condition.

In addition, the Highway Patrol confirmed the Columbia Police Department's observation that Benjamin did not seem impaired when they spoke with the mayor-elect shortly after the accident.

The scene does not show any signs of skid marks in the intersection, which suggests that neither driver hit the brakes before impact.

WACH Fox News asked whether Benjamin may have been texting or on the phone. His spokesman said he was not.

William Matteson, a guest at the Clarion on the corner where the crash happened, says he witnessed the accident from his hotel room. Matteson woke up to a loud bang. When he went to the window, he said he saw a car stopped, facing the wrong way. Soon after, he says around eight police cars and six ambulances and fire engines arrived on the scene.

WACH Fox News also talked to a co-worker of Deborah Rubens. They describe her as a "good lady."

As of Wednesday afternoon, a Columbia Police spokesman said no ticket had been issued in the crash. The wreck is currently under investigation.

Columbia Police Chief Tandy Carter is not answering questions on the matter pending the outcome of the investigation. Carter went on to say there is nothing to hide.

Other media outlets were reporting that the highway patrol was investigating the crash earlier. WACH Fox News talked to Sid Gaulden with the Department of Public Safety, and Joseph Robinson with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. They both say that's not the case. Columbia City Police remains in charge of the investigation. Highway Patrol was just called in to review the city's investigation.

Keep checking back throughout the day for the very latest on this developing story from WACH Fox and