By FITSNews || Columbia S.C. Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin is said to have consumed multiple liquor drinks well into the early morning hours following his historic electoral victory a week ago – drinks that were consumed just hours before he was involved in a horrific car crash that has left a Columbia woman fighting for her life.
“(Benjamin) was served several Grey Goose and tonics,” says a source at the bar where the Mayor-elect went to celebrate following his victory party at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. “There were a lot of people wanting to buy him drinks.”
Asked to put a number on how many vodka tonics Benjamin consumed, two sources at the bar – the Liberty Taproom in downtown Columbia, S.C. – declined to speculate on an exact number but agreed that they had watched the Mayor-elect consume at least four of the liquor drinks.
Benjamin is said to have left the Liberty Taproom at approximately 2:00 a.m. – roughly three hours and forty minutes prior to the accident. Assuming Benjamin indeed consumed only four liquor drinks, the elapsed time between him leaving the bar and when the accident took place is roughly equivalent to the time it would take for the alcohol to have left his system under normal circumstances.
It would certainly be cutting it close, though.
Anyway, it is at this point on this fateful evening that Benjamin’s itinerary becomes the subject of considerable disagreement – even among those who claim to have been with him for the duration of the night.
Previously, Benjamin supporters had told FITS that the victorious candidate “may have had one celebratory drink but that was about it.” Also, that “one celebratory drink” was said to have occurred at Benjamin’s victory party, not at a local bar. In fact, this information was among the various initial tidbits of information that we reported on shortly after the crash.
Now, sources close to Benjamin are telling FITS that the Mayor-elect indeed left Liberty Taproom at around 2:00 a.m., but that he headed from there directly to his hotel room at the Hilton Columbia Center hotel. Other sources, however, dispute that contention and claim that Benjamin led a group of friends to another nearby hotel, the Downtown Columbia Sheraton. They say that Benjamin did not return to his room at the Hilton until 5:00 a.m. – less than an hour before the accident.
Either way, at 5:40 a.m. on April 21, 2010 – less than ten hours after his historic win – Benjamin was driving his wife’s Mercedes SUV when the car slammed into a Toyota Tercel in downtown Columbia, critically injuring Deborah Rubens, a popular server at the local Clarion Town House hotel. The accident is still under investigation, and both The State newspaper and The Free Times ran stories Wednesday updating readers on Ruben’s condition and the fact that no new information has been released by the police in nearly a week.
Rubens, incidentally, is in a coma and has not regained consciousness since the accident. She is in critical condition with brain damage, a shattered pelvis and numerous broken bones. Doctors have told her family members that she will never walk again, assuming she survives.
Several sources close to Benjamin tell FITS they are confident that the Mayor-elect will be vindicated both with regard to the accident and his conduct in the hours leading up to it.
“Steve does not drink to excess, he did not drink to excess on the night of this tragic accident and when the investigation into this matter is concluded he will be completely exonerated of any fault,” one of the Mayor-elect’s supporters told us. “Any story or source suggesting otherwise will be proven false – definitively.”
Benjamin’s allies maintain precisely what we reported the day after the accident – that Benjamin was not drinking in excess. They also tell us that “alcohol played no role in the crash, at least as far as (Benjamin) was concerned.”
The Columbia Police Department initially determined that Benjamin was not impaired at the time of the accident. That assessment was confirmed roughly two hours later by the S.C. Department of Public Safety, although Benjamin was never given a field sobriety test nor was blood drawn from him for analysis.
In Benjamin’s defense, we have hung out with him socially on several occasions and have never seen – nor even really heard of – him drinking to excess.
However, in addition to sources who witnessed him drinking at the Liberty Taproom, perception here is also critically important. For example, a Facebook page celebrating Benjamin’s victory was making the rounds on Wednesday that included a picture of the Mayor-elect drinking an unknown liquid from a plastic cup shortly after his win. The tag on the photo read: “The spoils of victory.”
Sources close to Benjamin tell FITS that the was drinking a cup of ice water in the picture and that the tag applied to it was “a joke.”
Obviously, this story is ongoing. We have no idea where it will lead but we will continue bringing you first-hand accounts from all sides of the story as credible information is related to us.