North Charleston police found themselves juggling multiple crime scenes and snarled traffic Monday morning after a pair of shootings left one man dead and another seriously wounded in a wild start to the work week.
A 40-year-old man died in his car after he was struck by gunfire and crashed on Interstate 26, shutting down traffic for more than six hours.
Police were still probing that shooting when more shots were fired just a short distance away, outside the Comfort Suites hotel on North Forest Drive. The victim in that shooting was rushed to a hospital with wounds to the lower back and leg, police said.
The shootings occurred about six hours apart and less than a mile away from each other. But investigators do not think they are related, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.
The first shooting claimed the life of Maurice Youngblood, 40, of Adams Run. He was pronounced dead inside his car after it crashed around 3:30 a.m. against the center median near mile marker 210 on the interstate, authorities said.
It appears Youngblood's death was caused by a gunshot wound and not the crash, Charleston County Deputy Coroner Brittney Martin said.
Police received reports that Youngblood might have been shot as he drove his 1996 Cadillac from Ashley Phosphate Road onto the interstate, Pryor said. Other than that, investigators have little to go on and no suspect in hand, he said.
"Right now we're kind of at a loss as we're hoping someone may have been driving around that area at 3:30 in the morning and saw something unusual," Pryor said.
Investigators determined that Youngblood was at a Waffle House on Ashley Phosphate Road with a woman shortly before his death. Nothing unusual seemed to occur at the restaurant, and Youngblood left in his car by himself, Pryor said.
He said multiple shots were fired at the victim's car, but it does not appear that Youngblood returned fire. Investigators are waiting to see if video cameras along the interstate recorded the incident.
Youngblood has a criminal record dating to 1990, with convictions for armed robbery, cocaine and marijuana possession, an illegal pistol sale, failure to stop for blue lights and possession of a stolen vehicle, according to State Law Enforcement Division records.
Police shut down the interstate at Ashley Phosphate Road immediately after the incident and rerouted traffic back up the on-ramp as investigators combed the empty corridor for evidence. The shutdown presented some rush-hour challenges for motorists before police finally reopened the interstate at 10:10 a.m.
By that time, police already had their hands full with the other shooting outside Comfort Suites. Police identified the victim in that incident as Mikel Devone Fitts-Polite, 22, of North Charleston.
Witnesses told police they saw Fitts-Polite and another man in some sort of altercation outside of the hotel when the suspect pulled out a gun and shot the victim, Pryor said. Detectives are investigating the possibility that the 9:45 a.m. shooting stemmed from a robbery, he said. It does not appear the two men knew each other.
Fitts-Polite was struck twice by bullets, and he was said to be in serious condition at Medical University Hospital, Pryor said.
Police taped off a wide area around the hotel as they interviewed witnesses and searched for evidence. Multiple evidence markers could be seen on the ground in front of the hotel. A helicopter hovered above as police scoured the woods in search of the gunman.
Investigators were speaking to a "person of interest" Monday afternoon, but he had not been charged with a crime, Pryor said.
A woman who is staying at the hotel said her 5-year-old son witnessed the whole confrontation from their room window. He yelled to his parents: "Hey there's a man about to shoot a girl."
His mother, who would not give her name, said she heard two or three shots and saw a man with dreadlocks on the ground. She said she saw another man in a red shirt running toward the woods.
Geoff Cipkala, a regional director with the hotel's parent company, Gateway Hospitality, said the victim came around the building and entered the lobby clutching his back. The man, who is not a guest at the hotel, said he had been shot and needed help, Cipkala said.
Cipkala said he and his staff stayed calm and relied upon their training in dealing with emergency situations. They called 911 and followed a dispatcher's instruction to cover the man's wounds with towels and apply pressure to stanch the bleeding, he said.
Robert Wieters, visiting from Louisiana, said he, his wife and two friends were having breakfast when the victim burst into the hotel. Staff placed the man in a chair. The man seemed all right at first, but he became increasingly anxious and said he didn't want to die, Wieters said.
"My wife started praying over him," he said. "She said 'Don't worry. You're not going to die. God has a plan for you.'"
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