Days after Mount Pleasant Councilman John Burn’s drunken driving arrest, town officials called the 52-year-old a likeable person and businessman.
The College of Charleston graduate made a name for himself running Hughes Equipment Rental, which has been in his family since the early 1900s. But the year before he was elected to the Town Council in 2009, Burn was working to prevent an element of his past from seeing the light of day.
Burn and another local businessman had been targeted in a lawsuit alleging that they slipped drugs into a woman’s drink and sexually assaulted her during a gathering at his Brecon Road home.
Burn and his friend acknowledged sexual contact with the woman, but they denied the assault and settled the suit privately in early 2008. The same year, their attorney pleaded with a judge to seal the lawsuit from public view, arguing that their reputations as “successful businessmen” were at stake.
The settlement wasn’t reached because of the “truth of the allegations but the desire they not be spread any further,” Charleston attorney Mark McKnight wrote in a memo. “Reputations built up over many years have been ruined by much less.”
But Burn’s status in the community wasn’t enough, a judge ruled, and the request was denied.
The Post and Courier examined Burn’s past because town police officers arrested him after a crash about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. The Mount Pleasant Police Department had sent Burn to jail once before, in January 2004, but the charge he faced then was not immediately available, sheriff’s Maj. Mike Stanley said.
As chairman of the town’s Recreation Committee, Burn led a panel meeting Monday morning. He declined to discuss his arrest, and attempts to contact him later in the day were not successful.
“I’m here to do Mount Pleasant’s work,” he said at the meeting.
Mayor Billy Swails called Burn “an extremely hardworking businessman and Town Council member,” but he withheld further comment because of the Police Department’s involvement.
“We need to allow this to go forward in the process that’s set for everybody — town officials and private citizens alike,” he said.
Burn’s 2004 Chevrolet pickup was going 25 mph on Coleman Boulevard when it hit a 2003 Honda stopped at Fairmont Avenue, a crash report stated.
The Honda’s driver, a 74-year-old Loris woman, complained of neck and chest pains. Also in the Honda was a 41-year-old Mount Pleasant woman.
Burn’s breath smelled of minty mouthwash and alcohol, the police said, and he acknowledged having a few drinks that evening at Alhambra Hall, a historic building on Middle Street that the town rents for weddings and receptions. The town said the hall was being used for a cotillion dance Saturday night but would not say which organization had rented it.
Burn later was sent home from the jail. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and son.
The civil lawsuit against him centered on an encounter with a woman the day after Christmas 2003.
The woman said in the complaint that Burn first made an “unusual request” for her to park in his garage, then gave her liqueur and told her to “drink it fast.”
“She suspected nothing and complied,” the complaint stated.
Her memory of the evening was fuzzy because she thought the drink was drugged, but she remembered the other businessman also being there, according to the filing.
She later awoke and felt as though she had had “vigorous” sex with the men, the documents stated. The newspaper could not locate the second man.
The woman didn’t sue the duo until December 2006, just before the statute of limitations would have prevented litigation. She sought damages for sexual battery and false imprisonment. The Post and Courier does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
In his attorney’s response, Burn said the woman was a former love interest who wouldn’t let him go. He acknowledged giving the woman Cointreau, but he also drank the triple sec because he wanted to quickly fall asleep so he could go duck hunting in the morning.
The defendants argued that she “instigated the sexual relations” and should be “solely responsible” for any pain she suffered.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.