The names you should remember
Sunday, December 08, 2013 1:56 AM
There's a little town nestled in the western corner of South Carolina, a proud little town.
It's a town where family and faith and football and hard work still mean something. A town that has taken its share of punches, only to get back up, dust itself off and keep coming.
But, the little town has a hole in its heart. It's been there for a decade. Sure, there has been healing, but the hole is still there. You can still feel it. I know I do, each and every time I ride past what is now an overgrown, decaying house at 4 Union Church Road.
On a cold morning 10 years ago today - Dec. 8, 2003 - there was an incident in Abbeville which was, to say the very least, tragic. That was the day two good men - Abbeville County Sheriff's Office Deputy Danny "Danny Boy" Wilson and Constable Donnie Ouzts - were shot and killed at 4 Union Church Road, home of the Bixby family.
By now, many know the story. The Bixby family - husband and wife Arthur and Rita Bixby, and son Steven Bixby, all of whom came to South Carolina from New Hampshire - had been in a dispute with the South Carolina Department of Transportation regarding a highway project in front of the Bixby's home.
On the morning of Dec. 8, Wilson - a handsome, headstrong sergeant - went to the Bixby residence to speak with them about the dispute. He was shot as he stood on the front porch, then dragged inside the house, where he later died.
A short time later, Ouzts - a beloved father and grandfather, and a dedicated constable - arrived at the residence to check on Wilson. It would be Ouzts' last act, as he was shot dead in the front yard of the small home.
A fierce standoff and shootout ensued between law enforcement and Arthur Bixby and Steven Bixby. Rita Bixby was not at the Union Church Road home at the time of the killings, though she was later convicted for her role in helping plan the ambush. After nearly 14 grueling hours, the standoff came to an end. Steven Bixby and Arthur Bixby - who was shot during the standoff - were taken into custody.
Steven Bixby - who, in particular, gained a measure of infamy through his role in the killings - was eventually convicted of murder in connection with the incident, and was sentenced to death. He remains on death row and, earlier this year, had a post-conviction relief hearing before Judge Knox McMahon. According to a source at the S.C. Attorney General's office, McMahon has not yet handed down his ruling in that PCR matter.
Meanwhile, Rita Bixby, who was found guilty of accessory to murder and sentenced to life in jail, died of natural causes in September 2011 while in prison. Arthur Bixby, who never made it to trial, also died in September 2011. He was in a mental institution in Columbia at the time.
For many, the events of Dec. 8, 2003 are likely a distant memory. For others, the tragedy of that day likely remains too fresh on their minds.
Two members of Abbeville's law enforcement community were ripped away from their families, from their friends. From all of us. And that's a damn shame. It's as much of a shame today as it was 10 years ago.
ONE MORNING IN FEBRUARY, I parked my car in a garage on Senate Street in Columbia, then hoofed it up to Assembly Street on my way to the South Carolina Statehouse. I was in in the midst of spending a week in Columbia to do a series on the state legislature for the paper.
I had arranged to meet state Rep. Shannon Riley early that morning, so I could walk with him from his office in the Blatt Building to the House of Representatives chamber in the Statehouse.
As I walked onto the Statehouse grounds, things were quiet. That day's session was not set to begin for a while, and the campus had not yet come to life.
On my way to the Blatt Building, I noticed a monument, a beautiful monument, on the south side of the campus. As I had some time to spare, I ventured over to take a look. As it turns out, the monument was the South Carolina Law Enforcement Memorial, which is in honor and memory of officers who were killed in the line of duty.
I immediately set to work looking for the names of Abbeville's two fallen officers. It took me a few minutes, as the list is not in alphabetical order.
And there they were, listed one after the other: Danny Wilson and Donald McMurry Ouzts. Forever linked, not only in our minds and hearts, but etched in stone.
I snapped a photo with my phone, then stopped to reflect for a few moments. In doing so, a thought clearly entered my mind: These are the names we should remember.
Whenever this incident is written about or discussed, the name "Bixby" is evoked. Last week I heard "It's been 10 years since Bixby."
While I can understand the reason the Bixby name immediately comes to mind when recalling the infamous Union Church Road tragedy, I think it's important to put Danny Wilson and Donnie Outzs' names foremost in our minds when we reflect on the incident.
Not the murderers. Not the cop killers. Those aren't the names we should put first.
What about the two good cops who didn't, even for a moment, deserve the fate they received?
Dec. 8, 2003. A date we will never forget. Danny Wilson and Donnie Ouzts. Two names we should always remember.
Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-5650; email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.