Man pleads guilty in death of best friend in Con­way car wreck

The Sun News - - Local - BY ALEX LANG alang@the­sun­news.com

Cooper fled the scene af­ter he crashed an SUV in Con­way in 2016 leav­ing his best friend cling­ing to life, face down in the dirt.

“Why would you leave some­one you love on the side of the road …?” asked Jamie Lil­ley, the mother of Tris­tan Marino, who died in the wreck.

“My son was left on the side of the road face down, and he ran. If he would have stayed, the out­come of all of this would have been dif­fer­ent,” she said. “I know he died alone, by him­self, at 20 years old.”

That de­ci­sion to run will now cost Cooper at least one year of free­dom. On Thurs­day, Cooper pleaded guilty to reck­less homi­cide. Horry County Cir­cuit Court Judge Ben­jamin Cul­bert­son sen­tenced him to one year in pri­son and then four years on pro­ba­tion.

If Cooper, 32, vi­o­lates his pro­ba­tion, he faces a to­tal of seven years in pri­son.

Po­lice ini­tially charged Cooper with DUI with death, but Se­nior As­sis­tant So­lic­i­tor Lau­ree Richard­son said they lost a blood test taken from Cooper at the hos­pi­tal. As a re­sult, the state agreed to the reck­less homi­cide plea. A count of leav­ing the scene of an ac­ci­dent with death was dis­missed.

Cooper pleaded guilty with the Al­ford caveat, which is when a de­fen­dant pleads guilty, but doesn’t have to tell the judge de­tails of the crime.

Richard­son said the sin­gle-ve­hi­cle wreck hap­pened July 3 around 4 a.m., and both Marino and Cooper were ejected from the SUV. Cooper briefly fled, but fell nearby be­cause of his in­juries.

As Richard­son de­scribed Marino lay­ing in a field, Lil­ley started to cry and put her head down as she sat in the first row of the court­room.

Marino was on life sup­port for four days.

“July 7 my world was shat­tered,” she said. “I had to turn the ma­chine off and watch my son take his last four breaths.”

Cooper only spoke brief

ly to the court to share a mes­sage with Lil­ley, “I love her and her fam­ily, and she knows this.”

De­fense at­tor­ney Mor­gan Martin said Cooper is re­morse­ful for what hap­pened, though he doesn’t re­mem­ber much of the in­ci­dent. The de­fense asked for pro­ba­tion.

“There is a gen­uine re­gret for all that tran­spired with Chris,” Martin said.

Lil­ley de­scribed the crash as an “ac­ci­dent,” and she is now rais­ing Marino’s new­born daugh­ter, who will never know her fa­ther.

“I cry ev­ery sin­gle day,” Lil­ley said.

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