COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's top prosecutor has been asked to weigh in on the investigation of a wreck involving the mayor-elect of Columbia, his office said Thursday, as the probe enters its third week.
The Columbia City Council called but then canceled a special meeting to be held today to discuss whether an outside law enforcement agency should investigate the crash that happened early on the morning of April 21, hours after Steve Benjamin was elected as the city's first black mayor.
The 40-year-old lawyer and lobbyist, who was on his way to Columbia television stations for interviews, was not hurt. The other driver, 61-year-old hotel worker Deborah Rubens, has been in the hospital for two weeks and has brain injuries, a broken collarbone and a shattered pelvis.
Columbia police have released few details about their investigation. Police Chief Tandy Carter has said at least one witness told officers Benjamin had his headlights off, and investigators are examining the computer system from Benjamin's SUV.
Benjamin has not spoken publicly about the incident, but in a statement released the next day he called for another law enforcement agency to get involved in the investigation to avoid any appearance of favoritism.
The council called for the special meeting after one of its members said the Columbia police shouldn't be the lead investigator for an incident involving the city's mayor-elect. During a meeting earlier this week, Councilwoman Belinda Gergel said the Highway Patrol should take over the investigation, and the council also has discussed passing a new ordinance that would require that practice for any future cases that involve elected officials.
The council also asked Carter to give them an update on his investigation. But the probe is ongoing, and on Wednesday Carter asked Attorney General Henry McMaster for an opinion on whether the council can require him to give a briefing on an active investigation.
Through a spokesman, McMaster said it might be difficult to finish an opinion in time for that meeting. On Thursday morning, city officials said the meeting had been canceled and had not been rescheduled.
City manager Steve Gantt said Carter has told him he would consider asking the state Highway Patrol to review his incident report once it's finished but would not involve the agency during the investigation. Without direct request from Carter, Public Safety Director Mark Keel said the troopers he oversees can't participate in any way, Gantt said.
Rubens, who has had a tracheotomy and a procedure to relieve pressure on her brain, is improving, but her attorney said she still has a long road ahead. A trust fund has been set up to help pay medical bills for his client, who has been moved from critical care to a trauma unit, Rick Detwiler said.
"She's certainly not out of the woods," he said. "She has been responsive to some people and some questions but doesn't exactly seem to be completely aware of what has happened to her."
Benjamin, who spent three years running the South Carolina Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole and unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2002, is set to be sworn in July 1.