South Carolina crime victims’ fund helped with 57 Horry, Georgetown county funerals last year

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Police officers are the only people seen at the South Carolina Statehouse on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Columbia, South Carolina. The capitol was closed for safety concerns for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Crime Victim Compensation Fund saw an increase in funds it paid out to victims last year.

The fund paid out about $8 million in the last fiscal year, according to Burke Fitzpatrick, director of the Crime Victim Services Division under the South Carolina Office of the Attorney General. About half of that is used to cover forensic exams, including those for those who have been sexually assaulted.

“We certainly don’t want victims paying for their own examination,” Fitzpatrick said. 

The program, which has been around for more than 25 years, saw the increase in part due to an increase in the amount it will reimburse for funeral and burial expenses for people who were killed in violent crimes, or were a part of a boating or driving under the influence case, child abuse or involuntary manslaughter. That amount, which was $4,000, was raised by the South Carolina General Assembly to $6,500. 

It’s considered a fund of last resort, which means that it will defer to other sources first, if they’re able to cover the cost. The state fund can cover counseling, lost wages, funeral expenses, some transportation costs and up to $15,000 for medical or dental services. It doesn’t cover expenses for property damage, the cost to replace property, crime scene cleanups, rent or mortgages, groceries or attorney fees.

Fitzpatrick said the fund is necessary because the survivors of the crimes aren’t responsible for what was done to them.

He said although it can only pay up to $15,000 for medical expenses, the state can try to negotiate costs with hospitals.

“That is one less thing for them to worry about, how to pay medical expenses,” Fitzpatrick said. 

The office received 733 death claims during its most recent fiscal year. Of those, payments have been made for 570, although Fitzpatrick said some are still processing. That number has been rising slightly statewide.

In the 15th Judicial Circuit, which covers Horry and Georgetown counties, there were 57 death claims.

Victims learn about the fund through victim advocates, which are in every police department and sheriff’s office in the state. The advocates have a minimum of 15 hours of training, in addition to 12 additional hours required each year. 

“Thanks to the great partnership we have with victim advocates throughout the state, we are pretty much capturing the opportunity for all victims in South Carolina of violent crime to be evaluated by a victim advocate for this fund,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Those advocates are getting more and more busy in Horry County.

The Horry County Sheriff’s Office cut one victim service position after grant funds were cut, leaving the victim services office with five advocates and one supervisor. It’s hoping that changes in federal funding will help it reclaim that position, according to Angela Brown, the director of victim services for the sheriff’s office.

With staff out due to the pandemic, it’s been even harder for the office to communicate with the 1,200 to 1,300 victims it helps each month — a number that continues to climb as the county’s population keeps up its exponential rise. 

“The manpower is very thin right now,” Brown said.

For things to run smoothly, Brown said the office would need seven advocates. If more grant funding was available, she’d like to see them have eight

The advocates walk with victims through the judicial system, notifying them of bond hearings and being present with them in court.

“We are the ones who guide them, to be there for support, to help them know what is important for them to know at the time of a bond hearing,” Brown said. 

The office is open daily and advocates are available at all times in case a victim needs an emergency safety plan.

But nine times out of ten, Brown said eligible victims won’t apply for the state compensation fund. She stressed that anyone can call to ask about information or resources, even if no one has been arrested, or they don’t intend to call police.

“Nobody should go through depression when there is resources that can help them for free,” she said. 

Even if a victim doesn’t want to call police, she said help is still available.

“We just try to help them in what we can do and protect them, and maybe if you help one victim out of ten, at least we saved someone,” Brown said.

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