When a crash victim's mother said during a bond hearing that state Sen. Paul Campbell's actions could have killed her daughter, the lawmaker cracked a smile, a video of the proceeding showed.
Campbell, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and chief executive of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, is accused of driving drunk Saturday night when his car rear-ended another on Interstate 26 near Goose Creek.
No one was seriously injured, but Campbell's alleged handling of the episode prompted some observers on Monday to call for his resignation. Others, including airport officials, said the Goose Creek Republican first deserves a fair chance to prove the innocence he has professed.
Meanwhile, Charleston-area prosecutors with close ties to Campbell cited a possible conflict of interest and forwarded the case to the S.C. Attorney General's Office for review.
A witness said Campbell, 71, switched seats with his wife after the wreck, making it appear as though she was the driver. He and his wife, Vicki, were arrested on a charge of giving false information to police. He also faces a count of driving under the influence.
Campbell said little during his Sunday bond hearing. But because of what officials portrayed as a technical hiccup, his facial expression had not been seen publicly until Monday when a recording of the proceeding was released.
In the video footage, Campbell stood in green-and-white jail clothes as Paulette Caddin-McCrann, the mother of the woman whose car was hit, lectured him.
"This could have been a lot worse," she said. "We are in the middle of planning our daughter's wedding. We could be planning a funeral right now because of Senator Campbell's actions."
A broad smile stretched across Campbell's face.
His attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, said Monday the legislator naturally has a "very upbeat personality."
"He smiles a lot in both good times and in troubling times," Savage said. "Do not let his smile ... belie his seriousness of purpose in addressing these charges nor his empathy for the young woman who suffered this accident through no fault of her own."
Charleston County bond hearings are conducted through video conferencing but Campbell didn't show up on a television screen visible to the courtroom gallery, likely because the screen had slipped into sleep mode, county spokesman Shawn Smetana said. The proceeding continued because his face appeared on a separate monitor in front of a magistrate.
The discrepancy prompted the county to release the footage Monday.
As ethics chairman, Campbell holds an esteemed position in the Senate and his airport job pays about $250,000 a year.
'Possible conflict of interest'
The collision happened on a busy portion of Interstate 26 just east of College Park Road.
About 9:15 p.m., the S.C. Highway Patrol said in a report released Monday, Campbell's Mercedes-Benz SUV hit the back of a Jeep Patriot, which was slowing for the traffic ahead.
After the crash, the Jeep's driver, 21-year-old Michaela Caddin of Summerville, said Campbell's car pulled in front of hers. The people inside then swapped seats, she later told The Post and Courier.
During the following encounter, Caddin said Campbell showed his Senate business card.
State troopers reported that both Campbell and his wife smelled of alcohol. Campbell told the authorities he had climbed out his SUV to make sure his wife didn't get out, not to switch seats.
But the troopers said they determined that he had been behind the wheel. His wife passed field sobriety tests. He did not, they added. His speech was slurred, and he couldn't keep his balance, they said.
Campbell told the troopers he didn't think he was drunk, probably with a blood-alcohol content of no more than 0.05 percent, the report stated.
But a breath test at the Charleston County jail indicated 0.09 percent, the troopers said, just above the legal limit for driving.
He was jailed and released on his own recognizance after the bond hearing the next day. His wife was ticketed.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, whose office would normally prosecute Campbell, said in a letter Monday that she had worked with him on legislative matters, posing a "possible conflict of interest." Wilson asked the Attorney General's Office to assign a different prosecutor outside Campbell's Senate district.
Campbell has said that he looks forward to his day in court.
Steve Burritt, state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in South Carolina, said he could not comment about the case because he did not know the evidence but noted that DUI is a “100 percent preventable act” by choosing not to get behind the wheel.
He also lamented South Carolina's laws on video evidence that can prompt the dismissal of cases for various reasons, ranging from a suspect stepping out of the frame to an audio glitch.
'Best path forward'
Though little new information about the accusations emerged Monday, civil rights activists from the National Action Network called on Campbell to resign from his elected post at the Statehouse and his airport job, arguing that his arrest questions his integrity at a leader.
"He was elected to make law not to break law," the organization's state president, James Johnson, said.
Brady Quirk-Garvan, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party, also appealed to Campbell to act.
By law, the governor cannot suspend a senator because of a misdemeanor arrest.
"If the senator did lie to law enforcement," Quirk-Garvan said, "I assume he would have the decency to resign as chairman of the ethics committee, if not resign from the Senate entirely."
Campbell is expected to remain in his position at the state's largest airport as the charges against him play out, Aviation Authority Chairman Billy Swails said Monday.
"He is an employee of the Aviation Authority just like anybody else," Swails said. "We are going to let the legal part of the whole thing work out. I think he is a great public servant and employee of the airport. It's a legal matter."
Swails said he did not see a conflict of interest for Savage, who sits on the 11-member airport board, to represent Campbell.
Savage added that he would discuss the case with Campbell over the coming days "to determine the best path forward."