COLUMBIA — Police dashboard video of the arrest of South Carolina’s former Department of Transportation director shows him telling the arresting trooper he had some vodka the night before but that he wasn’t impaired.
The video from a state trooper’s car provided Monday through a public records request shows Robert St. Onge was alone in his Honda when he was pulled over on Interstate 20 at 8 a.m. Friday. He was arrested on a first-offense driving under the influence charge after several sobriety tests and driven in handcuffs to the Lexington County jail. According to the police report, a breath test registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent.
Visibly uncomfortable sitting in the officer’s front seat with hands restrained behind his back, Onge says, “Today’s the day that my job ends.”
Within hours of the arrest, Gov. Nikki Haley accepted his resignation. St. Onge was released from jail on his own recognizance Friday afternoon. No one answered the phone at his home Monday. A message was not immediately returned.
The trooper was dispatched to the scene to assist a Lexington County deputy who stopped St. Onge.
The deputy told the trooper he watched St. Onge cross lane lines several times. Both the deputy and trooper said they could smell alcohol on St. Onge.
St. Onge appeared calm and respectful throughout the roadside process. He did not stumble around.
“You do what you need to do,” he told the trooper. Asked if he was the secretary of transportation, the 66-year-old retired Army major general responded, “I am indeed. Not that that makes a difference.”
The trooper then returned to his vehicle to call his supervisor.
“I just know policy says we have to notify a supervisor if we stop a political figure. He claims he’s an appointed Cabinet member,” the trooper says. “I’m just calling you first to make you aware of it.”
After walking back to St. Onge, he tells him, “We’ll do some field sobriety tests. If you’re OK to drive, I’ll let you go.”
The first two tests involved St. Onge following the trooper’s pencil after he took off his glasses. Because of where he and the trooper are standing, St. Onge’s eye movement can’t be seen on the video. Another test shows St. Onge walking heel-to-toe. Another shows him having difficulty balancing on one leg for an extended period. He appears genuinely surprised when the officer arrests him: “What did I do wrong?”
He did ask not to be in handcuffs. After the trooper says he needs to tighten them up, St. Onge asks, “Is this really necessary officer? I honor your procedures, but I don’t think I need to be cuffed. I can’t move.”
The trooper responds he can’t treat him differently than anyone else arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Sitting in the trooper’s front seat, he asks, “Can I call my office and tell them I’m not coming to work?”
Haley named St. Onge to lead the transportation department in January 2011. He had retired from the military in 2003 after 34 years in the Army.