Coast Guard gate-crasher sentenced in federal court
One of two men whose alleged cross-county crime spree ended through the gates of the Charleston Coast Guard base this year will soon begin a two-year prison term.
James Van Deese, 21, of Chapin, appeared Wednesday in a federal courtroom in downtown Charleston, where a judge sentenced him to 24 months in federal prison. Deese pleaded guilty in June to a weapons charge.
Deese is accused of breaking into houses in Lexington County before arriving in the Lowcountry and leading police on a chase through the gates of the U.S. Coast Guard base in Charleston on July 3.
Deese apologized in court for the crime spree that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said could have ended up much worse.
“I was cringing when I read in the pre-sentencing report of what could have happened,” Gergel said in court.
Deese, who was in a drug treatment program following a burglary conviction in Lexington County before the spree, attributed much of his behavior to his problems with drugs.
“The heart of this problem was addiction,” Gergel said.
It began in June when Deese and Christopher Coward, 23, of Belton, were kicked out of a drug-treatment program in Lexington County, according to federal prosecutors.
The pair spent days breaking into several homes in the Lexington area, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Phillips said. They stole a Kel-Tec .380-caliber pistol and ammunition from one of those homes as well as a car, he said.
On July 3, Charleston police officers started chasing the stolen car until Coward, the driver, rammed the vehicle into the gates of the U.S. Coast Guard base off Tradd Street, authorities said.
Coward and Deese jumped out of the car and tried hiding under a dock but were captured by police, according to investigators. The crash caused more than $1,000 in damage, according to the indictment documents.
Deese and Coward have pleaded guilty to being felons in possession of a firearm that had been shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce. Coward also pleaded guilty to damaging federal property. He has not been sentenced.
Both still have pending charges of larceny and burglary in Lexington County.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.