Deputy wounded in Goose Creek gunfight Female officer recovering, likely saved by bullet-proof vest; suspect kills himself

Sheriff Duane Lewis (left) shakes Cpl. Kimber Gist’s hand last month. Gist was shot early Friday morning during a fight with a suspect. A bullet-proof vest likely saved her life.

Berkeley County Cpl. Kimber Gist was alone on patrol early Friday when a suspicious car behind a Red Bank Road shopping center caught her eye.

A call the deputy placed around 12:30 a.m. over her radio reported that one of the vehicle’s two occupants was in her custody. Then another call, this time heightened in urgency as she and the second occupant began to fight.

The woman’s cries were reportedly followed by silence. Authorities soon learned from a concerned citizen that Gist, 25, had been wounded in a blast of gunfire. Paramedics rushed her to nearby Trident Medical Center.

The man whom deputies alleged shot her, however, was found dead around 6:30 a.m. after a standoff with police at his North Charleston home that lasted five hours.

The man, 36-year-old Travis Smith of Bexley Street, had suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office said.

Three other people who had been inside the house, which is south of Park Circle near Rivers Avenue, escaped unharmed, authorities said.

Sheriff Duane Lewis said at an afternoon news conference that Gist was shot in an exchange of gunfire in the few minutes she took to check on the car.

The details of what transpired between Gist and Smith were hazy Friday night. The encounter wasn’t captured on dash-cam video and Gist wasn’t wearing a body camera, deputies said. A State Law Enforcement Division investigation was still developing, and the agency reported that it was not yet in a position to release additional information.

“I don’t know why someone would resort to a gunfight with a law enforcement officer,” Lewis said. “We’re seeing that more and more all over the country. It’s one of those terrible trends that we’re worried about.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what Gist found suspicious about the car behind the Food Lion at Red Bank Road and Harbour Lake Drive. Lewis also couldn’t say whether the woman was shot with her own weapon or by a gun that Smith was carrying. That, too, was under investigation, he said.

Gist did manage to fire a shot of her own during the struggle. The suspect was bleeding when he left the scene, deputies said, though it hadn’t been determined whether Gist shot him or he shot himself.

Gist was stable, “in good spirits” and surrounded by family after surgery, Lewis said. She had been shot several times, though authorities would not say how many times or where.

She has a long recovery ahead of her, Lewis said, adding that he had spoken with the woman at the hospital and spent some time with her.

“Kimber is strong. She comes from a strong family,” Lewis said, “strong in faith.”

Stancie Rhodes, the trauma surgeon who worked on Gist, said during the news conference that a bulletproof vest the deputy was wearing likely saved her life.

Gist has been with the department for two and a half years. For her first eight months there, she worked as a jailer at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, state Criminal Justice Academy records show. She then spent some time as a courthouse deputy before patrolling the streets for the past year.

Friday’s shooting was not Smith’s first encounter with law enforcement. He had prior arrests for obstruction of justice, forgery and altering checks, Lewis said.

Lewis did not identify the person who was with Smith prior to the gunfire, but said that person was being treated as a witness.

This is the second time in the past year that a Berkeley County deputy has been wounded by someone else’s gun.

In May, Lt. Will Rogers was shot in the head during what officials called an ambush-style attack off U.S. Highway 52 in the Moncks Corner area. Despite grave injuries, Rogers survived, but he later retired.

A SWAT team fatally shot his attacker a week later during a standoff in Charleston.

“I tell folks all the time we’re like a family. When something like this happens it affects us all,” Lewis said of both shootings. “But we’re strong. We’ve got a lot of community support and a lot of people are praying for us. I’m thankful for that.”

Andrew Knapp contributed to this report. Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908. Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.