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Woman pleads guilty to car break-ins

Has connection to Columbia attempted murder cases

Posted: October 12, 2017 4:59 p.m.
Updated: October 13, 2017 1:00 a.m.

A 20-year-old woman pleaded guilty Monday to four of eight counts of breaking into motor vehicles a year ago. Kristina Danielle Lake, of Humphrey Drive, Columbia, pleaded guilty to those charges and an additional charge of grand larceny more than $10,000. Lake, one of five people the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) arrested for the September 2016 break-ins, received a three-year sentence under the Youthful Offender Act, suspended upon 18 months probation with credit for 392 days served.

The solicitor’s office dismissed the other four motor vehicle break-in charges.

However, Lake is connected to a large investigation involving the Columbia Police Department (ColaPD) and Richland County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) that could place her behind bars for many years. She is charged with being an accessory after the fact in a shooting incident where the primary suspect is one of the other people KCSO deputies arrested in September 2016: Markelton Tyvon Stephens, 21, of St. Andrews Road Columbia.

According to online court records, charges have yet to be filed against Stephens for the Kershaw County auto break-ins. However, as detailed in a joint ColaPD/RCSO press release issued after his September 2016 arrest, Stephens is charged with two counts of attempted murder in conjunction with separate shooting incidents that took place a month earlier where children were the victims. Lake is thought to have been Stephens’ getaway driver in a third shooting where no one was injured.

According to the press release, Stephens is the primary suspect in two shootings at an apartment complex on Falling Springs Road in Columbia. A 13-year-old boy visiting friends at the complex suffered a gunshot wound to the head on Aug. 1, 2016. Two days later, an 11-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound to the neck while visiting family at the same apartment complex. Law enforcement officials at the time said the car used in the first shooting had been stolen from somewhere in Richland County. In addition to the two attempted murder charges, Stephens is also charged with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent felony, unlawful carrying of a pistol and breach of peace of a high and aggravated nature.

Police and deputies also arrested and charged a 16-year-old juvenile with attempted murder in the second shooting.

The third shooting, in which Lake is being charged as an accessory after the fact, took place on Lakeside Avenue in Columbia on Aug. 24, 2016, where Stephens allegedly fired several shots, striking two vehicles. A woman exited her vehicle in fear of her immediate safety.

The ColaPD and RCSD believe Stephens and/or his associates are connected to 13 other shootings in Columbia and Richland County. In their September 2016 press release, officials said the link between the cases appear to be the firearms used in the case.

They allege that Stephens used a .380 Bersa handgun in the two shootings at the Falling Springs Road apartment complex and in the Lakeside Avenue incident. Evidence shows a .380 Bersa was used in at least three of the other 13 shootings.

Meanwhile, the juvenile suspect allegedly used a 9mm Lugar in the second apartment shooting. That or a similar gun is tied to at least another three of the 13 additional shooting incidents. Other guns, including a .357 Taurus and .40 caliber handgun appear to have been used in a number of the remaining shootings.

All of the shooting incidents took place in August 2016. They included:

• Mellowood Drive, Aug. 1, 2016, RCSD -- two victims wounded

• Longcreek Drive, Aug. 3, 2016, RCSD -- one person wounded

• Lorick Circle, Aug. 5, 2016, ColaPD -- at least four occupied apartments damaged by bullets; no physical injuries; stolen car recovered

• Town Center Place, Aug. 5, 2016, RCSD -- purse snatching; witness’ vehicle was shot at while pursuing suspect

• Amsterdam Drive, Aug. 6, 2016, RCSD -- one person shot

• Columbia College Drive, Aug. 13, 2016, ColaPD -- male victim shot in the leg; stolen car used to commit crime

• Woodfield Drive, Aug. 15, 2016, RCSD -- multiple shots fired at a residence; no one injured

• Alpine Road, Aug. 15, 2016, RCSD -- multiple shots fired at home; no one injured

• Oakley Drive, Aug. 18, 2016, RCSD -- multiple shots fired at home; no one injured 

• Brickyard Road, Aug. 22, 2016, ColaPD -- property damage after several shots struck an occupied house

• Claudia Drive, Aug. 22, 2016, RCSD -- shots fired at a group; no one injured

• Quaker Road, Aug. 24, 2016, RCSD -- multiple shots fired at home; no one injured

A different 16-year-old suspect connected to the Aug. 13, 2016, Columbia College Drive shooting died later that day in what Columbia media outlets called a “fiery car crash.”

ColaPD Chief Skip Holbrook and RSCD Sheriff Leon Lott both said in a September 2016 press conference that the preservation and forensic examination of the evidence -- including by three RCSD firearms examiners -- helped tie the shootings together.

Tuesday, a day after Lake pleaded guilty to her Kershaw County chares, the RCSD charged her with two counts of grand larceny more than $10,000. It was unclear at deadline whether the charges were in connection with any of the alleged shootings.

Meanwhile, another of the suspects arrested in Kershaw County for the September 2016 auto break-ins is still awaiting trial. Enoch Amir Palmer, 21, of Andrea Court, West Columbia, faces the same charges as Lake. He is currently out on a total $58,500 bond.

Like Lake, online court records also show Keifer Dewarren Branch, 20, of Ranch Road, Columbia, pleaded guilty to four Kershaw County break-in charges and one charge of grand larceny more than $10,000. He made the plea in November 2016 and was sentenced to two years in prison with a credit for 86 days. However, the S.C. Department of Corrections’ online inmate search does not show anyone with his name listed at any of its facilities.

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