GLOVERVILLE -- For about 45 minutes Wednesday, sheriff's deputies were searching for a jolly old thief in a red suit.
For a while, it appeared Santa Claus had dashed away from the Midway Grill without paying for two country-fried steak dinners.
Answering owner Bill Hamilton's call, Aiken County deputies rushed to the restaurant to see what was the matter. But soon, to their wondering eyes did appear, Billy Proctor in a Santa suit, without the reindeer.
"Apparently, I got set up as a joke," Mr. Hamilton said. "They were rolling on the floor. The deputy was not too happy."
According to Mr. Hamilton, his friend -- dressed as Santa Claus -- came through the drive-thru at Midway Grill on Augusta Road at about 3:30 p.m. Disguising his voice, Mr. Proctor ordered the $7.88 dinners.
"Santa" told cashier Lisa Hancock he would have to get out of the car to get the money from his costume. But instead, the man in red drove away.
Mr. Hamilton ran after the car, memorizing the South Carolina tag number before giving up. Soon, police radios crackled with alerts to be on the lookout for Santa Claus driving a four-door Chevy.
Nearly an hour later, the culprit returned.
Mr. Proctor, a friend of Mr. Hamilton's and a regular customer, said he had dressed as Santa for a visit to a local day care and decided later to pull the prank.
"He was laughing so hard, he could hardly talk," Mr. Hamilton said. "The deputy was in the middle of doing a report. I told them to please tear up the report because it was a big gag."
After a good laugh, Mr. Proctor paid for the dinners, and the deputy went on his merry way.
"I'll get him back," Mr. Hamilton said. "They are going to get it."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.