Before the director of the Charleston area transportation system was arrested on an alcohol-related disorderly conduct charge outside an upscale hotel, she invoked the mayor's name and tried to get "a break," according to police.
Christine Wilkinson, 44, executive director of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, was charged at 9:55 p.m. Tuesday after the incident outside the Market Pavilion Hotel, which also houses Grill 225, on East Bay Street.
At a CARTA board meeting Wednesday afternoon, Jeff Burns was appointed interim executive director. Wilkinson, who was named CARTA executive director three years ago, remains a paid employee at this time, said Board Chairman Elliott Summey.
According to the Charleston police report, the scene played out this way:
Wilkinson drove up to the valet lane of the hotel and told door staff members she was there to grab ice cream.
She was asked to leave the valet area and park in a legal space.
After returning about two minutes later and pulling her car into the loading zone, a door staff member asked Wilkinson if she wanted her car parked.
Wikinson told staff members she was waiting for friends to come out of the bar. Wilkinson began to act irritated, and door staff contacted police.
An officer approached Wilkinson, who was still in the driver's seat of her car, and smelled a strong odor of alcohol beverage coming from her body and breath.
Wilkinson's eyes were bloodshot and her speech was slurred. The officer asked Wilkinson to get out of her car due to her "grossly intoxicated state" and the "possibility of her endangering herself or others."
When Wilkinson exited her car, she staggered on the roadway.
When police arrested Wilkinson, she asked the officer "to let her go because she worked for Mayor Joe Riley and has given 20 years of her life to this city," the report stated.
Wilkinson also said, "You could give me a break if you wanted to," according to the report.
Mayor Joe Riley released the following statement:
"I have worked with Christine Wilkinson for a long time and always found her professional and capable in whatever she did. I am sorry this incident occurred."
Wilkinson posted bail and was released from custody overnight, according to authorities.
When asked why Wilkinson didn't face DUI charges since there were witnesses to her driving away and returning, police said the officer felt the best resolution to the situation was the disorderly conduct charge.
Summey said he learned about the arrest from postandcourier.com.
"We have to figure out what the facts are and get to the bottom line of what's happened and make a decision from there," he said. "I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Christine has been a faithful employee for 20 years."
Wilkinson served as transit administrator with the agency since 1997, and the board promoted her to the director post in 2011, when former director Howard Chapman retired.
"I've reviewed the incident report. I'm going to try to reach out and meet with Ms. Wilkinson today or tomorrow and report back to the board," Summey said.
Summey said he had contacted Wilkinson by phone but wanted to speak face to face with her.
"We're going to talk to Christine and figure out what's going on," Summey said.
The CARTA board met in executive session for about 30 minutes on Wednesday to discuss unspecified personnel and contractual matters. No vote was taken following the meeting.
Afterward, Summey commented on the status of Wilkinson and the interim appointment of Burns.
Burns, who filled in for Wilkinson at the board meeting, is a transportation planner who came to CARTA from the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.
The quality of CARTA bus service will not be affected by the situation, Summey said.
"The organization continues to move forward in a positive way as it always does. The buses continue to roll," Summey said.
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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