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South Carolina sheriff could escape charges in DUI crash because he wasn’t arrested by coroner

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A South Carolina sheriff was released on personal recognizance after he allegedly wrecked his county-owned pickup into another vehicle while drunk and then drove away.

Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt was arrested early Sunday and charged with drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

However, Magistrate James Polk said the arrest may have been illegal because it was made by a Highway Patrol trooper, rather than the county coroner.

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State law grants only county coroners the authority to arrest county sheriffs, so Polk questioned whether he had the authority to set bond for the 63-year-old DeWitt and released him from jail.

It’s not clear whether DeWitt’s attorney will attempt to have the charges thrown out.

Attorney Robert Wyndham declined to make any arguments during the bond hearing Sunday, saying he would wait until DeWitt’s next court appearance, scheduled for Feb. 11.

The victim in the crash, 21-year-old Robert Gonzalez, was treated and released from an area hospital, but no additional information was available about his injuries.

Dorchester County Coroner Christ Nisbet said the sheriff’s arrest was not improper under a law he deemed as “archaic.”

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Nisbet said the law was passed before the formation of the Highway Patrol, and he said the statute should be amended to allow any law enforcement officers to arrest a sheriff.

The Highway Patrol claims statewide jurisdiction to make arrests without limitation.

South Carolina law grants Highway Patrol troopers the same authority to make arrests as sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, although the statute does not reference coroners.

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