Paul Campbell, a state senator who is chief executive over Charleston's airports, was arrested on charges of drunken driving and lying to police Saturday night after claims that his wife was behind the wheel in an accident on Interstate 26, authorities said.
Campbell's wife, Vicki, also was charged with providing false information to police.
After he was released on bond following an unusual hearing Sunday, the senator told The Post and Courier he was not driving the car involved in a collision that authorities said occurred on a congested portion of I-26 near Goose Creek at 9:15 p.m.
"I'm as innocent as can be," he said, "and that's going to come out at trial."
But the driver of the Jeep Patriot rear-ended in the accident told The Post and Courier that she saw Paul Campbell exit the driver's side of the car and change over to the passenger side, while a woman moved into the driver's seat.
"Well, after I was rear-ended, he pulled off in front of me, and they immediately swapped seats," Michaela Caddin, a 21-year-old from Summerville, said Sunday.
After the collision, Caddin said the senator approached her vehicle and asked at least twice if she would be willing to exit the interstate to discuss the accident. She wasn't.
"Just let me know what you want to do," Caddin recalled Campbell telling her. He then handed her his Senate business card.
S.C. Highway Patrol said troopers ran into a discrepancy over whether Campbell or his wife was driving at the time of the accident. But after troopers spoke with everyone involved in the collision, authorities determined the 71-year-old senator was behind the wheel.
Campbell was given a field sobriety test and charged with driving under the influence, the patrol said. He registered at .09 percent blood-alcohol level at the Charleston County Detention Center, authorities said, just above the state legal limit of .08 percent.
Campbell was held in the Charleston County Detention Center overnight, according to online records. Vicki Campbell was released at the accident scene after her charge.
On Sunday morning, in a departure from typical court procedure, Campbell did not appear on a video feed at his bond hearing, just his voice. Defendants typically appear on a monitor in the courtroom before a magistrate. The monitor was operational, court staff said, and showed video of other defendants — but not Campbell. No explanation was given why then senator did not appear on video.
Prominent Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who represented North Charleston police officer Michael Slager in the shooting of an unarmed black man and a close friend of Campbell's, appeared in court on the senator's behalf.
Campbell was released Sunday on his own recognizance. The senator said he did nothing wrong in the crash where authorities reported no serious injuries.
"Everyone seems to be (saying) I was driving the car ... I wasn't driving the car," he said.
Campbell, a retired regional president for aluminum producer Alcoa who has served in the Statehouse for a decade, chairs the Senate's ethics committee. He also sits on the Senate's Corrections and Penology committee where he has pushed for better pay for prison officers. The senator also is part of a special panel examining the aborted nuclear plant expansion in Farifield County that forced out nearly 6,000 workers and could cost electric customers $9 billion.
Since 2013, Campbell has been chief executive of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, overseeing operations of the Charleston International Airport and two other airports. Charleston International has undergone a growth spurt in recent years with a record 4 million travelers expected this year. The state's busiest airport is about to start $133 million in construction to realign the loop road around the terminal and build a new 3,005-space parking deck.
Despite planning to retire at the end of 2016, the Aviation Authority board asked Campbell to stay in his $250,000-per-year job this year while it searched for his successor. The board then extended Campbell's contract for two years in June after saying it failed to find a suitable new aviation chief after a national search.
"He saved us four years ago, and with the expansion we are getting and his engineering and management background," Aviation Authority chairman Billy Swails said after extending Campbell's contract, "he is the most important hire we have ever had here."
Aviation Authority spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells said Sunday that she was not aware of any changes to Campbell's employment status with the agency after is arrest. As for his Senate post, state lawmakers cannot be disciplined until they are formally indicted.
This story has been revised to clarify that Campbell was released on his own recognizance.