Coroner: Autopsy shows Dorchester County sheriff’s captain who died while hunting had enlarged heart

Dorchester County Sheriff’s Capt. James Nettles died Monday while hunting at a Georgetown County hunting club.

It could be a month before authorities know for sure what killed a Dorchester County sheriff’s captain who died during a Labor Day hunting excursion, but foul play is not suspected.

James “Jimmy” Nettles, 44, was found dead on a hunting club property near Andrews Monday afternoon. Preliminary autopsy results show Nettles had an enlarged heart and a history of hypertension, which could have led to an irregular heartbeat, according to the Georgetown County Coroner’s Office.

His death remains under investigation until final autopsy results are available in about 30 days, the coroner’s office said.

Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight said it appeared that Nettles died after shooting a deer and trying to retrieve the animal, suggesting that he might have had a heart attack or succumbed to heat stroke. Temperatures on Monday reached the low 90s.

Knight said his department was grieving Tuesday. He described Nettles as a dedicated, talented and compassionate officer who excelled in law enforcement. As captain of the investigations division, Nettles oversaw about 25 deputies.

Knight said he went to school with Nettles’ mother and had known Nettles all of his life.

“We are going to miss him here. He was a big part of our organization,” Knight said. “He was a good law enforcement guy. But it was more than just a working relationship for him and me. I watched him grow up. He was like another son to me”

The Summerville man went missing around Ten Acre Road near Andrews Monday morning after he dropped a friend at a tree stand on the property of the Green Savannah Hunting Club. Nettles then headed off in his truck toward another stand, according to an incident report.

Nettles’ friend heard what sounded like rifle fire coming from the direction of Nettles’ tree stand around 7:30 a.m. After hearing another shot about five minutes later, the friend texted Nettles to see if he was the one shooting. The friend got no reply, the report stated.

Nettles’ friend grew worried and called 911 after Nettles failed to show up for breakfast around 10 a.m. and didn’t answer his phone or respond to text messages.

After a lengthy search aided by a plane and bloodhounds, Georgetown County sheriff’s deputies located Nettles body at about 3:35 p.m., the report stated.

Nettles had been with the sheriff’s office, on and off, since the early 1990s. He oversaw a number of high profile cases and served as the sheriff’s office spokesman for several years.

In 2004, Nettles, then a lieutenant, resigned from the sheriff’s office after former Sheriff Ray Nash won re-election. He and another deputy later filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Nash forced them from their jobs for supporting Knight’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Nash. Nash denied that was the case. The suit was later settled.

Nettles worked as a code enforcement officer for the town of Summerville until Knight was elected sheriff in 2008 and re-hired Nettles to serve as captain of detectives.

“He was a dedicated officer,” Knight said. “The sheriff’s office and Dorchester County will miss him.”