Video: DeWitt tops 100 mph, runs light

Wayne DeWitt is arrested.

By the time he sat down in a trooper's patrol car, Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt's pickup had been captured on video speeding away from a police cruiser at more than 100 mph, swerving over the road and running a red light.

The cameras were there when DeWitt finally stopped and got out of the county-owned Ford F-150 and when the truck kept going because he hadn't put it in park. They were there when he tried several times to walk a straight line but couldn't.

The trooper arrested him that early morning on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury. Investigators found an unopened bottle of vodka in his Ford and some cups they said had contained alcohol.

And as he rode in the patrol car, the video showed DeWitt as he expressed his predicament for the first time.

"Be kind of odd going into my own jail, but" he said, "my fault."

The dashboard video and incident reports that the S.C. Highway Patrol released Monday under The Post and Courier's Freedom of Information Act request explained the circumstances of DeWitt's Dec. 28 arrest but raised suspicion about whether he could face further charges.

They also prompted DeWitt's first public comments in which he acknowledged missteps but held on to the role he has filled for the past 20 years. He vowed to continue "discharging" his duties and to work at "restoring the public's trust," he said in the written statement.

"I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment my recent conduct has caused," DeWitt said. "I know I have greatly disappointed my family, my friends, my staff and my constituents. I accept full responsibility for my conduct."

DeWitt, who was privately sworn in for his sixth term Sunday, said he would accept whatever penalties result from the judicial process.

It was his first arrest.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Monday that her Charleston office would handle the prosecution of DeWitt. She indicated no plans to ask for the case to be moved out of Berkeley County courts.

If prosecutors pursue and get a grand jury indictment on the misdemeanor hit-and-run charge, Gov. Nikki Haley may have the option to suspend him and appoint a replacement until he's tried. By law, a governor can suspend a sheriff indicted for a "crime of moral turpitude."

Though the video appears to show DeWitt's pickup fleeing from a Hanahan police car with its lights activated, he does not face a charge of failing to stop for the authorities.

Asked Monday about whether his agency had considered the count, Hahanan Police Department Chief Mike Cochran said that "everything was turned over to the (Highway Patrol)."

But Lt. Kelley Hughes of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, which includes the patrol, said such a charge would "have to come from Hanahan."

"Our part of the investigation is related to the collision," Hughes said. "Whether he failed to stop - that charge would have to be made by Hanahan because their agency tried to make the stop."

The documents also revealed that the Hahanan officer who stopped DeWitt had been a deputy of his who was ticketed last year for driving with a suspended license.

Officer Justice Jenkins resigned from the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office in August after his cruiser collided with a car carrying a family of five as he responded to a call. Sheriff's officials said then that they didn't know that Jenkins' license had been suspended for failure to maintain insurance on his personal vehicle.

Cochran said Monday that Jenkins' lapse was unintentional and had resulted from a miscommunication with his wife at the time. Jenkins was hired in Hanahan on Nov. 24, according to paperwork from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.

The episode leading to DeWitt's arrest started around 5:45 a.m. that Sunday as he and 21-year-old Robert Gonzales of Goose Creek both were southbound on Red Bank Road.

Gonzales' 2012 Nissan sedan was in a right-turn lane as it slowed to 20 mph near an entrance to a Hardee's restaurant at Henry E. Brown Jr. Boulevard, he later told troopers. Investigators estimated that DeWitt's Ford came up from behind at 40 mph in the 45-mph zone and rear-ended the Nissan.

The Nissan received about $7,000 worth of damage, and DeWitt's truck, about $100. Gonzales suffered a "possible injury," the crash report stated, and went to Trident Medical Center for an examination.

Meanwhile, Jenkins, the Hanahan officer, was on his way to work in a marked patrol cruiser when he noticed DeWitt's silver Ford barreling toward him from behind, the incident reports stated. He thought it might be another police car.

The video from Jenkins' cruiser showed the Ford pass on his right and weave over the center line.

"He goes around me. He almost loses it off the road," Jenkins later told other officers, according to video footage. "He's just all over the road."

The pickup drifted from one side of the two-lane road to the other as Jenkins pulled behind it and turned on his blue lights. It ran a light at North Rhett Avenue and Yeamans Hall Road.

"He just blew through the red light," Jenkins later said. "He didn't even acknowledge the blue lights or anything."

At one point, the pickup veered into the right shoulder and nearly went off the road. It later slowed in a 35-mph zone and turned onto Bankton Circle, where it stopped. When DeWitt opened his door, Jenkins yelled for him to stay inside.

"Hey, dude," said Jenkins, who had not recognized the sheriff. "Stop playing around in there."

As the officer walked up to the Ford with his pistol drawn but at his side, Jenkins asked DeWitt to step out.

But DeWitt forgot to shift the Ford into park before he got out, troopers later said in the reports. It rolled forward about 20 feet as Jenkins and another officer tried to jump on and stop it.

"Put the car in park!" Jenkins yelled. "Step on the brake! Step on the brake, man!"

Jenkins eventually jammed his leg inside, and the truck jolted to a halt.

Once they handcuffed the sheriff, the officers asked for his name.

"Wayne DeWitt," he said.

The lawmen looked at each other.

The policeman stood by until someone else could take over the case. One remarked that they needed to call in a supervisor "with more stripes than me" to handle the sheriff's arrest.

Trooper Laura Lynn Hydrick eventually showed up to test DeWitt's sobriety.

Though Hydrick took note in her reports of the "open container" of alcohol inside DeWitt's Ford - several cups had been spilled on the passenger seat, she added in the video - a 1.75-liter bottle of Boru vodka had not been opened. Inside, Hydrick also came across blue lights that mount to a visor.

DeWitt acknowledged to Hydrick that he had one drink around 4 a.m. that day and had crashed into a small car that he thought had its "tailgate" up.

"The car stopped right in front of me," he told the trooper. "I think it was ... basically stopped right in the road. I didn't have time."

The trooper later wrote in the reports that DeWitt's eyes were droopy and bloodshot, but he agreed to take Hydrick's field sobriety test. Birds chirped and the dawn sky brightened as the sheriff, clad in jeans and a camouflage jacket, showed eagerness to perform the tasks and to walk a straight line in his cowboy boots.

But, as he swayed from side to side, he started walking with one foot in front of the other before the trooper finished her instructions.

"I appreciate you trying that," Hydrick said. "But I hadn't told you to do anything."

After stumbling on other tasks, DeWitt grabbed the trooper's left arm to steady himself, and he took off his boots.

"Even without his boots on," Hydrick wrote, "Mr. DeWitt continued to lose his balance."

Hydrick eventually handcuffed the sheriff and started to take him to Berkeley County's jail, when DeWitt remarked about the irony of being in a facility he oversees.

But during the journey, someone on Hydrick's police radio told her to go to Goose Creek instead, according to the video.

Hughes, the Public Safety Department spokesman, said the diversion was an effort to find the closest facility with a Datamaster machine, which tests a person's blood-alcohol content through a breath sample.

DeWitt already had told Hydrick that he would refuse to take the test, according to the video.

DeWitt eventually wound up at the jail in Charleston County, which is named after its sheriff. When they got there, the trooper allowed him to make a call so he could get a message to the friend he was supposed to pick up in Hahanan that morning.

"Where the hell are you?" a woman said after answering the telephone.

DeWitt said he was about 20 feet away from being booked into the jail under suspicion of DUI, and he chuckled.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.