Man gets 15 years for felony DUI with injury in Lexington County

Megan Diffee before crash.

Joseph Edward Swearingen, III, a 24-year-old Lexington County man, pleaded guilty Tuesday to Felony Driving Under the Influence with Great Bodily Injury and Possession of Cocaine – Second Offense.

Swearingen received the maximum sentence of 15 years on the Felony DUI charge followed by four years of probation on the Possession of Cocaine charge.

There were no plea negotiations in this case. Chief Administrative Judge Frank R. Addy, Jr, presided over this matter. Swearingen will be transported to the South Carolina Department of Corrections to begin immediate service of his prison sentence.

Solicitor Rick Hubbard commented, “This individual’s conscious decision to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence forever altered the life of Megan Diffee.

Crash scene.

Mrs. Diffee will never be the same person she was before this incident occurred, but we hope that this sentence has brought closure her and her family. Today’s sentence will hopefully prevent others from making such a poor choice to drive while impaired.”

Assistant Solicitor Todd Wagoner prosecuted this case for the office. During sentencing, Assistant Solicitor Wagoner remarked to the Judge that while Swearingen pleaded guilty to great bodily injury “these are life-altering injuries.”

On the morning of May 5th, 2018, Megan Diffee, 28 of Lexington, was traveling on US Highway 1 southbound toward Lexington when, approximately half of a mile before Interstate 20, Swearingen crossed the center median violently striking Diffee head on causing the rear of her vehicle to rise throwing Diffee forward shattering her legs.

The vehicle behind Diffee collided with her vehicle as well. Diffee’s husband of eight years, Brandon, was traveling a few vehicles behind her and witnessed the head-on collision. Brandon ran to his wife’s vehicle and held her until first responders arrived after asking bystanders to call 911.

Several witnesses to the accident described to law enforcement that Swearingen was traveling at a high rate of speed in the center median just prior to the collision. Diffee was traveling in the far right lane, commonly referred to as the slow lane. Diffee was transported to the trauma unit at Palmetto Health Richland due to her life threatening injuries. Swearingen was transported to Lexington Medical Center for treatment for his injuries.

South Carolina Highway Patrol division of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety responded to the scene and conducted the investigation of this case. Troopers described Swearingen to be disoriented with slurred speech and droopy eyes. At the hospital, a white powdery substance was found in Swearingen’s pocket that drug analysis would later confirm to be cocaine.

With the physical evidence at the scene, along with the Cocaine, Cocaine metabolite, THC, THC metabolites, and Alprazolam found in Swearingen’s system, law enforcement was able to determine that Swearingen was solely responsible for the collision and under the influence at the time.

Diffee sustained severe injuries that will impact her and her family for the rest of her life. Diffee was in the ICU for 21 days at Prisma Health-Midlands – Richland. For approximately 17 days her arms and hands could not move. She then went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for inpatient treatment for 49 days followed by an additional 35 days of outpatient treatment.

Diffee suffered numerous injuries, including multiple skull fractures, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), broken bones and underwent multiple surgeries, including initial surgery at the trauma unit, tracheotomy, surgery to repair an aneurysm, inner ear surgery, and recently an eye surgery to name a few. Diffee will need at least yearly angiograms to check the brain stent for the rest of her life.

Diffee addressed the Court during sentencing sharing with the Judge that she had run a half-marathon last year prior to that life-changing day in two-hours and fifteen minutes. She shared that her “running days were over.”

She then asked the Court for the maximum sentence, remarking that Swearingen will receive “a sentence that will eventually come to an end, but mine never will.”

The family was supported today in court by dozens of family and friends to include MADD South Carolina.

Swearingen has a prior 2016 drug conviction and reckless driving conviction from DUI Court in March of 2018. He also has an extensive driving record with multiple violations.

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