Judge dismisses hit-and-run charge against a reserve state DNR officer involved in a fatal crash on James Island

A judge has dismissed a hit-and-run charge against Jeffrey Lewis Thomas of Mt. Pleasant.

A judge has dismissed a hit-and-run charge against a reserve state Department of Natural Resources officer involved in a fatal crash on James Island, saying there was insufficient probable cause to send the case to trial.

Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell last week dismissed the charge against Jeffery Lewis Thomas, 46, of Oakhurst Drive, Mount Pleasant, at a preliminary hearing in the case. He had been charged with leaving the scene of a wreck resulting in the Aug. 17 death of bicyclist Matthew Denton, 40, of James Island.

Gosnell found that the state lacked probable cause to proceed because Thomas did stop and try to render aid to 40-year-old Matthew Denton of James Island before driving off, authorities said.

Gosnell could not immediately be reached for comment today.

Charleston County Sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said investigators “still believe in the charges” and the department’s legal staff is working with the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to determine how best to proceed from here.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office is “reviewing the dismissal and looking into the viability of the case.”

Neither Thomas nor his attorney, Michael Coleman of Summerville, could be reached for comment.

The collision occurred around 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night. Thomas was driving a 2001 Ford Explorer on Riverland Drive toward Maybank Highway when he struck a bicycle traveling in the same lane near Delaney Drive, according to Charleston County deputies who investigated the accident.

Three witnesses told deputies they saw Thomas perform CPR on Denton to try to revive him after the accident. After the witnesses stopped to see if they could help, Thomas walked to his sport utility vehicle and drove off, according to the incident report.

He returned to the scene about 40 minutes later with his girlfriend. He was then arrested.

An attorney for Denton’s family said today the family plans to release a statement on the judge’s action in the coming days.

Denton owned a company that sold surplus fiber optic cable, according to his Facebook page. He often posted videos of bike trips that included nature scenes with uplifting messages.

Tom Bradford is director of Charleston Moves, a group working for more bike and pedestrian paths. He said Gosnell’s decision sounded “remarkable,” but he didn’t have enough facts on the case to say more about the ruling.

The case, however, demonstrates that a lot more must be done in the Charleston area to ensure roads are safe for cyclists, Bradford said.

“It remains a travesty our roads are simply not safe enough for even the most astute of bicyclists to be safe,” he said.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.