AIKEN - In a letter written 12 days before his death, Barnwell County Sheriff Joey Zorn endorsed a successor he said was a close friend and a good lawman.
Ed Carroll, a former Barnwell Sheriff's Department captain and a seven-year veteran of the State Law Enforcement Division, would be the "best qualified," for sheriff, Sheriff Zorn wrote in a letter that was to be delivered to the Barnwell People-Sentinel within a week of his death.
SLED employees are not allowed to run for an elected office while still employed with SLED, agency spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson said. Before filing, they must resign.
Mr. Carroll, who is still an investigator for SLED, said he could make no comments on the endorsement or his political affiliation until early next week. He did say, however, that he did not solicit Sheriff Zorn's recommendation.
There was some speculation that interim Sheriff Tom Gantt would run, but he says he is not interested in the permanent position because of the headaches and responsibilities that come with it.
Sheriff Gantt, who has 27 years of law enforcement experience, said he has known Mr. Carroll for years and thinks he would be a good sheriff.
"We came up through the ranks together. ... He's sheriff material," Sheriff Gantt said.
Many other law enforcement officers and politicians in Barnwell County share Sheriff Gantt's sentiments. Barnwell County Republican Chairman Tom Ramsey said he has to stay neutral at this point in the process, but thinks highly of Mr. Carroll.
"From what I've heard, Ed is a good law enforcement man, and I think he'd make a strong candidate," Mr. Ramsey said.
Mr. Carroll was born in Barnwell County. Mayor Ed Lemon said he remembers when he, Mr. Carroll and Mr. Zorn used to play football at Barnwell High School.
"I think he'd do a fine job [as sheriff]," Mr. Lemon said.
Sheriff Zorn's posthumous anointment of Mr. Carroll gives the SLED agent a tremendous advantage in the special election to fill the post of the popular, 16-year sheriff, who died last Wednesday after a long battle with cancer.
The boost is similar to the one the late Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend gave to Chief Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton, the Republican candidate in the November race to succeed Mrs. Townsend, a beloved Democrat who served for almost 22 years.
Sheriff Zorn's pick might scare away other potential candidates. There is little speculation in Barnwell County political and law enforcement circles about a challenger to Mr. Carroll.
Democratic State Sen. Brad Hutto, who represents Barnwell County, said he doesn't know of anyone planning to run for the office.
On Monday, Gov. Mark Sanford appointed Sheriff Gantt to the interim position. Will Folks, Mr. Sanford's spokesman, said one reason the governor chose Sheriff Gantt was because he didn't plan to run for the office.
There was a similar situation earlier this year when Mrs. Townsend died. Before her death, she endorsed Mr. Carlton to be the interim coroner. Because he planned to run for the permanent position, Mr. Sanford did not appoint Mr. Carlton as the interim coroner, citing concerns that it would give him an unfair advantage over other candidates for the seat.
Although nobody has officially said they will file for the sheriff's seat, many in Barnwell County say it will be nearly impossible for anybody to live up to the legacy of Sheriff Zorn.
"Ed's my friend, but nobody's going to fill the sheriff's shoes and they'd be sadly mistaken if they tried," Sheriff Gantt said.
Reach Phil Watson at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110.
Filing for the special election to fill the post of the late Barnwell County Sheriff Joey Zorn opens Tuesday and ends Oct. 18. The primary election will be Oct. 26; the general election will be Dec. 14.