A Summerville teen’s life was cut short in a wreck a News 2 investigation found may have been preventable.
Our investigation into the crash found a request to the DOT in Colleton County to clear ditch along Bells Highway seven weeks before the wreck. The neighbor told the DOT someone would die if the ditch kept flooding onto the road. The DOT didn’t fix the problem until after Tripp Rabon died.
Leaving his mark
Tripp Rabon left his mark on the Town of Summerville.
His number, 44, is painted on the grass at John McKissick Stadium. The baseball state champ rings are engraved with his number too. The team dedicated their 2016 win to Rabon, who died December 23, 2015. Several of his closest friends got tattoos of Tripp’s favorite bible scripture.
Then there are marks you can’t see that will last in hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him.
“At his funeral I said we were all going to be more like him. Laugh more. Love more,” his father, Glenn, told News 2. “I have to be honest, that’s been hard these last twelve months. I’m hoping at time moves on we can do more of those things.”
The loss of his son, born on father’s day, is almost unbearable. Rabon, 17, was headed duck hunting with three friends early that morning when they hit six inches of water rushing over the road. The support from the Summerville community has been a bright spot in a dark year.
“It has been a year lost in grief and mourning,” Rabon’s mother, Sandra, said.
His mother received his high school diploma to a standing ovation in May.
The family has been inundated with calls, texts, flowers, wrist bands, and lanterns- all in his honor.
“All the love, it’s constant and it keeps us going,” she said with a smile.
In a way his parents learned more about their son in his death than they knew about the talkative, outgoing teen while he lived.
“I think all parents think their kids are special. And we did,” Glenn said. “But it’s been really, really nice to have so many people talk about all the wonderful things your child has done.”
Who knew what?
In the 12 months since his death, more and more details have come out about the wreck too.
Through a News 2 records request, we learned the SCDOT and sheriff’s deputies knew the road was a danger zone. Seven weeks before the wreck a neighbor made a request to the DOT to fix the ditch along SC 64. The man told the DOT he was worried someone would die if it wasn’t fixed.
It wasn’t until after the deadly wreck the DOT cleaned the ditch and removed an unapproved driveway and undersized pipe from the shoulder of the road.
“It’s infuriating,” Glenn told News 2.
“This is a serious situation. It should be taken as serious as murder. Tripp has died. Other people have died on our roads because we haven’t repaired them,” Sandra explained.
The News 2 I-Team reached out to the SCDOT to see what, if any, changes have been made to how they respond to hazard complaints and if anyone has been held accountable for not removing the illegal driveway sooner. Via email they wrote, a suit has been filed connected to this incident. SCDOT does not comment on cases involving litigation, the email continued. That suit was filed by one of the other teens in the wreck.
Making a difference
The death of their youngest and only son crippled the Rabon family at first. Now they want to make sure no other family experiences their loss.
The Rabons launched a petition to reform the DOT. They want a law to prioritize road projects based on safety.
Efforts to work with legislators hit a roadblock this month as many want to increase funding instead of focusing on reform when they head back into session in January. The Rabons hope their petition will change that.
They’re also working to bring a defensive driving class to all local teens. It’s called BRAKES. It’s a full day behind the wheel for teens to learn how to handle road hazards and emergencies like hydroplaning. The class will be offered in February and requires registration.
And in the spring they will a launch the Tripp Alert App. It allows drivers to alert other drivers of hazards on the road. The technology could have been key to saving Tripp’s life last year. Just minutes before he and three friends hit the water on SC 64, another driver called 911 to report the problem.
“My car hydroplaned real bad and went in the other lane,” the driver recounted. “Water is just running across the road. They need to put up some signs or something. Somebody could die right there. I didn’t know who to call, but I’d felt guilty if someone had gotten into an accident,” he said to the 911 operator.
Sheriff’s deputies saw the problem too. Through a records request to the SC Department of Public Safety, News 2 obtained witness interviews from the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
A driver who stopped and helped the boys at the scene says deputies admitted to seeing the flooding on their way to work but did nothing to alert other drivers.
“He said that he had just come through there and seen the water piling up. I was looking down and working on Mr. Tripp. I didn’t even look up it disgusted me so bad,” the witness told troopers.
The family is disgusted too, but hold onto their faith.
“We are believers and we know we will be with him one day,” Sandra explained. “We are going to keep putting one foot in front of the other until that day comes and make all the difference that we can. We want to have the legacy that Tripp had of helping others.”