Man in Fort Mill wreck faces charges in NC woman's death

jmcfadden@heraldonline.com, slyttle@charlotteobserver.comJune 17, 2014 

Emergency workers respond to the scene of a wreck on Hwy. 21 in Fort Mill Monday. Police in Charlotte say the driver of the wrecked car shown here intentionally drove into the path of a truck in a suicide attempt. They also say the man is accused of killing his girlfriend the night before.

STEPHANIE MARTELL

— A Fort Mill man who authorities say was seriously injured in a crash on Monday has been accused of killing his girlfriend a night earlier in Mecklenburg County, according to police.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have charged Jimmy Wayne Estes, 51, of Fort Mill with murder in connection with the death of Frances Gutnick, found suffering from assault wounds in her home on Buckland Road in the Steele Creek subdivision, according to a news release.

Gutnick, 52, was found dead at about 11 p.m. Sunday.

Estes, who lives on Williams Road in Fort Mill, had been in a relationship with Gutnick, police said.

On Monday, Estes suffered injuries in a serious crash on U.S. 21, officials say.

WBTV is reporting that authorities in South Carolina believe Estes was trying to commit suicide when he slammed into the truck.

Estes, who suffered a serious head injury and broken bones, will be officially charged once he's released from the hospital.

Flint Hill Fire Department Deputy Chief Bruce Byrnes said Estes was driving a Lexus when he collided with a scrap steel truck. The truck rolled over on its side. The driver of the truck was treated at the scene by EMTs from Piedmont Medical Center, but was not taken by ambulence for further treatment, Byrnes said.

Meanwhile, a fire erupted in the engine compartment of the Lexus but was put out by two other people driving by the scene before the fire department arrived, Byrnes said.

Zach DeLisi of Troutman, N.C., said he and his father Ted, were headed to Fort Mill when they noticed the Lexus on fire. Ted DeLisi and another person put the fire out using two fire extinguishers.

"Nobody else had taken action," Zach DeLisi said. "There was a woman holding (a fire extinguisher) but she wasn't doing aything quick enough."

Ted DeLisi, a financial advisor who was in Fort Mill to attend Monday's announcment by Gov. Nikki Haley that Charlotte-based LPL Financial is moving its headquarters here, said that when he saw the accident he acted on "instinct."

"When we were in the truck and we see the car burning and then found out somebody was in it, my natural instinct was to help,” he said.

"I wasn't going to stand there and watch somebody burn."

According to Zach DeLisi, they saw the man wedged between the dashboard and the passenger side seat, but had difficulty opening the passenger side door because of the damage to the car. One bystander was able to open the door, which caused the man’s head to lean out of the car, DeLisi said, so bystanders supported his head until emergency vehicles arrived. DeLisi said the driver of the scrap steel truck was also trying to help the driver of the Lexus.

After hearing about the charges Estes face, DeLisi said he doesn't feel any different about having helped him.

"Not at all," he said. "Wow. It's weird. But I'm glad we helped him. Just like...maybe he would have helped us if we needed it." Bill Joyner, who has lived across from Estes for the past three years after renting property to the suspect and his parents, said, “I never had a problem out of him. I never would have expected anything (like this).”

Estes often rode his motorcycle and joked with Bill and Peggy Joyner’s grandsons. He sold used furniture in both Rock Hill and Fort Mill, the Joyners said.

Peggy Joyner said Estes’ parents have not been allowed to see him at the hospital because he is under heavy police guard. The family, she said, has not received much information aside from learning that it’s possible Estes won’t survive.

"He’s in critical condition. The state owns him," Peggy Joyner said. "That's wrong. Why can't the mom and dad go over there?"

No one answered the door at Estes’ home on Tuesday. Efforts to reach Gutnik's relatives have been unsuccessful.

Last Thursday, police arrested Estes and charged him with public disorderly conduct, failure to surrender his driver's license and open container after an officer on patrol witnessed him drunkenly get out of a Ford F250 while it was parked at a gas station on Tom Hall Street, according to a Fort Mill Police report. Estes, the report states, was unsteady on his feet and slurred his words.

After requesting Estes' driver's license, the officer realized it had been expired a month earlier. The officer also found a cold, half-full 25-ounce can of beer in the car, the report states.

Both South Carolina and North Carolina court records show that Estes has a criminal history dating back to 1980 when he received a youthful offender conviction in York County for two counts of armed robbery. A year later in North Carolina, he received another youthful offender conviction for robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Ten years later, he was convicted in Lancaster County of distribution of cocaine, and in 1991 he was sentenced to paying fines for driving under the influence, open container and driving under suspension, according to records with the State Law Enforcement Division.

In 1994, he was made to pay fines for a public disorderly conduct charge in Lancaster, records state. He was convicted again a year later of driving under the influence and open container. For the next several years, more convictions for public disorderly conduct followed, along with resisting arrest, shoplifting and possession of marijuana and cocaine, for which he was placed on probation, records state.

In 2006, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on an assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature conviction stemming from an incident reported in 1999, according to state records. He had been released by 2013 when he was charged with driving under the influence in Horry County.

Anyone with information in the case is asked to call detectives at 704-432-TIPS, or leave the information with Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Freelance reporter Casey White contributed to this story

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