Originally created 06/28/01

Chief links DUI charge to rivalry



A day after being acquitted on drunken-driving charges by an Edgefield County jury, Saluda Police Chief Kenneth McCaster attributed his arrest and prosecution to conflicts between his agency and the Saluda County Sheriff's Office.

"We're more of a community policing department; we are more education and less incarceration," Chief McCaster said. "To me, it seems like (the sheriff's office) is more into 'Put everybody in jail.' I just think it's two different philosophies."

Chief McCaster, 37, was back on the job Wednesday after being suspended without pay for more than 12 weeks pending the outcome of a jury trial in Edgefield County Magistrate's Court.

He was charged with DUI in the early-morning hours of April 1 after a South Carolina highway patrolman found his car bogged down in a muddy ditch at the bottom of a hill off Promise Land Road near Edgefield.

Chief McCaster said he had become lost on an unfamiliar road while returning from a late-night event at an Edgefield County nightclub.

"I was going down a dirt road that tractors and big trucks go down, and they have these grooves in the road, and my axle being so low to the ground it just got stuck in the mud," he said.

He said he called the Saluda County sheriff's dispatcher for help but didn't get the kind of service he expected.

"Rather than just send me a tow truck out, they started calling the Highway Patrol and tried to make a big issue of it," Chief McCaster said. "You know, we're not on very good terms around here.

"They told the highway patrolman that it had been an accident, and that I had run off the road and hit a tree and a bank and all this, and that's why the Highway Patrol came."

Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth said Wednesday that he wasn't in town at the time of the incident but that his officers acted appropriately.

"My dispatchers did their job and tried to get the man some help," Sheriff Booth said.

He also said he had no knowledge of conflicts or bad blood between the two agencies.

"As far as I know as county sheriff, my deputies work well with his department," he said. "I don't know why he would say that."

Whatever the case, it wasn't a tow truck service that found Chief McCaster on a dark, muddy, rural road at 4:30 a.m.; it was the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

After the trooper discovered he was dealing with Saluda's police chief, "he said something about me being drunk and placed me under arrest," Chief McCaster said.

The chief was taken to the Edgefield County Detention Center, where he refused to take a breath test. Chief McCaster was suspended without pay the next day.

But the state's case wasn't enough to persuade a jury. At Tuesday's trial, it took a six-person jury less than 15 minutes to return a not guilty verdict on the DUI charge, Edgefield County Associate Chief Magistrate Brenda Carpenter said.

Chief McCaster said he doesn't know why a trial was necessary. After he refused the breath test, his driver's license was automatically suspended by the state. But in mid-April, he got his license back when the Department of Public Safety sided with him at an administrative hearing.

"They found that the trooper did not have any probable cause," Chief McCaster said. "They could have dropped everything right then, but rather than do that I end up paying thousands of dollars to these two attorneys to battle this out in court."

Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Phil Morris defended his officer's actions.

"Our officer came out on a wreck call and he found something and he made a decision and he went with it. He did his job and we commend him for that," Lt. Morris said. "We have to work with what we end up with in court; apparently it wasn't enough this time."