Big chunks of ice fell onto the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge roadway Friday.
But that wasn't the only chilling surprise that came crashing down on the S.C. Department of Transportation four days ago.
Secretary of Transportation Robert St. Onge was arrested on a driving under the influence charge Friday on Interstate 20 in Columbia, near the I-26 turnoff - at about 8 a.m.
Double dose of bad timing:
The frozen leavings of the winter storm that had hit the state still hadn't melted away. And any DUI suspect's long shot at sympathy is stretched even further when he's apprehended early in the morning instead of late at night.
After all, most drivers who have had one, a few or way too many get hammered after dinner - not before breakfast.
Another losing number for St. Onge: He registered an alcohol level of 0.20 percent on his blood test - 2½ times the legal limit.
Plus, while any state-agency boss would face a public-relations mess if charged with DUI, it's a particularly galling stain on the head of the transportation department.
At least St. Onge, a retired army major general, acted like an officer and a gentleman by resigning later Friday.
And running the DOT is a bumpy ride, even when ice isn't falling from the sky - or from cables and towers atop the Ravenel. St. Onge has been playing with a short funding deck. As The Associated Press dispatch about his arrest reported in our Saturday paper:
"St. Onge often said his job was to 'manage the decline of the state highway system.' He had to strike a balance, asking legislators for more money to fix roads without suggesting where the money should come from. Haley has repeatedly vowed to veto any bill that increases the state's 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax, unchanged since 1987."
Then again, bottom-line neglect from politicians in Columbia shouldn't drive you to drink - or to drive while drunk. Society has rightly adjusted its attitude on that highway menace.
For instance, 50 years ago this month, "The Andy Griffith Show," which lives on in reruns, played the topic for laughs in "Hot Rod Otis."
Sheriff Andy Taylor (played by Andy Griffith) and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) were rightly alarmed to learn the Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), who routinely slept off drinking binges in Mayberry's jail, had bought a car. When they found Otis passed out behind the convertible's wheel, Barney told Andy, uncorking a laugh-track uproar: "Well, wouldn't you just know it - all gassed up and gone off for a little drive."
Andy then came up with a ruse to enlighten Otis.
After waiting until Otis started awakening from his besotted stupor in the cell, Andy and Barney spoke in grief-stricken tones about how he had drowned after driving off a bridge. Barney: "He's gone now, gone for good up to that big saloon in the sky."
Andy then strummed a guitar as he and Barney sang "The Vacant Chair," the haunting H.S. Washburn (lyrics)-George F. Root (music) Civil War lament for the fallen, in Otis' honor.
Andy: "If only he hadn't tried to drive in that condition."
And if only this were still 1964, many more folks would still be amused by drunk driving - and Otis' realization that town drunks and cars are a toxic mix.
But this is 2014. Most Americans long ago decided that highway fatalities caused by drunk drivers (roughly a third in recent years) is no laugh-track matter.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has played a major role in that sobering process. Founded by Candace Lightner of Fair Oaks, Calif., in 1980 after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, MADD has been much more persuasive than DAMM (Drunks Against MADD Mothers).
Down the drain
South Carolina, under the threat of a federal-highway-money cutoff, finally lowered our legal blood-alcohol driving limit from .10 to .08 percent in 2003. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states drop it to .05 - though Lightner dismissed that notion as "impractical."
Yet driving with any alcohol in your system has become increasingly impractical too. How can you be sure you're not legally drunk? How can you risk your life - and the lives of others? How can we figure out what we're laughing at now that most Americans won't find nearly as funny in 2064?
And how can we convince more drinkers that while the designated hitter is an appalling blight on baseball, designated drivers save lives?
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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