Coast Guard gate-crasher sentenced in federal court

James Van Deese was sentenced Oct. 30 to 24 months in federal prison after pleading guilty.

One of the two men whose alleged cross-county crime spree ended through the gates of a Charleston Coast Guard base earlier this year was sentenced in federal court.

On Wednesday in a downtown Charleston federal courtroom James Van Deese, 21, of Chapin was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in June to a weapons charge. He’s accused of spending days on the run, breaking into houses in Lexington County and leading police on a chase through the gates of the U.S. Coast Guard base in Charleston.

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,” he 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 sneaking around and 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 in downtown Charleston, authorities said.

Coward and Deese jumped out of the car and tried hiding under the 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 and has not been sentenced yet. Both still have pending charges of larceny and burglary in Lexington County.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or