CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – A man from Louisiana was in court in Horry County last week on charges stemming from a crash that killed two young girls on the Grand Strand in June of 2015.
Neil Dejean was initially charged with two counts of reckless homicide and having an open container in his new Mercedes-Benz after the deadly crash on Kings Highway, in front of Pirateland Campground.
The two girls who died were 11-year-old Dakota Shepherd and her cousin, 9-year-old Skyler Emore, from Person County, North Carolina.
On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 10 years for each reckless homicide and 15 years for an assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature charge. Those charges will be served concurrently which means Dejean will serve 15 years at the most.
“As you can imagine this has affected a lot of people,” said prosecutor, Lauree Richardson Ortiz, as she pointed out dozens of family members and friends who were in the court room along with witnesses and members of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
“[Dejean] is the type of person who needs to be incarcerated for an extended period of time,” she told Judge Larry Hyman.
In court, Dejean stood by his claim that his shoe got stuck underneath the accelerator while investigators allege Dejean was reckless, driving at speeds up to 90 miles per hour moments before the crash.
According to the South Carolina Highway Patrol, the driver of a Dodge minivan attempted to turn into a private driveway and was struck by Dejean’s Mercedes. The van also struck a parked vehicle in a parking lot and three people in the minivan and Dejean were taken to the hospital.
Dejean’s defense team also said he has ongoing medical issues from a work-related injury in 2009.
They brought in two doctors who evaluated Dejean and argued damage to his brain’s frontal lobe affected his behavior and may have contributed to his actions that night.
“I didn’t know that I was actually suffering from this… situation,” Dejean said to Judge Hyman. He said he wished doctors had realized it earlier and given him treatment so he “wouldn’t have become someone I wasn’t on that given day.”
Dejean and the young girls’ family members were visibly shaken while video and witness statements were played in the courtroom. One witness told investigators she and her husband saw Dejeans car speeding down the highway seconds before it hit the Shepherd’s car.
“He was going so fast that we were talking about, should we call and report him? And by the time we fished the phone out of the bottom of my purse that accident had occurred,” said one witness.
There was also video of Dejean’s wife, who was in the car with him at the time of the crash, calling him while he was in prison. The two argued over the phone about what happened and at times yelled at each other.
“You killed two kids,” she said.
“I know, I know. I’m physically distraught by this,” said Dejean over the phone.
Dejean’s wife told police she asked him to slow down but he didn’t listen.
“It’s a fast car,” she said about the Mercedes Dejean purchased only three days before the crash. “He never drove that way until he got this car.”
Several family members spoke at Tuesday’s hearing and described the incredible loss they’ve felt these last two years.
“As a parent you should never have to say goodbye to your child,” said Susan Shepherd, Dakota’s mother. “When we left Myrtle Beach to go home, we should’ve been preparing them for school the next month. Instead, we had to go home and plan funerals.”
Dakota’s father said he not only lost his little girl, but his hunting partner as well.
“My hunting buddy is gone, whose loss not only impacts me but the rest of our family and tribal community,” he said. “I’ll never get the chance to scare off boyfriends or teach her how to drive.”
Most family members said two years hasn’t healed them and they miss the girls every day.