Tuesday evening, Kershaw County Council heard what Chairman Julian Burns called a “sobering” report on traffic enforcement efforts by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).
KCSO Lt. Scott Myers, supervisor of the KCSO’s traffic unit, made the report to council in the wake of Camden High School (CHS) football player Sterling Felder’s death. Felder died Monday morning from injuries suffered in a Nov. 13 traffic collision on U.S. 1 in Lugoff. A service for Felder will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday in the CHS gymnasium.
Myers said the six-strong unit -- made up of four county-paid and two grant-paid deputies -- have made 801 DUI arrests since its inception in 2011. He said while traffic fatalities since then have averaged about 14 a year, there have been 18 traffic fatalities already in 2015.
He said the unit arrested 45 people for DUI in 2011 and the number has risen ever since, with 203 such arrests so far this year.
“It seems safe to assume that some of those 801 people who we arrested for driving under the influence would have caused an accident, some of which may have resulted in death,” Myers said.
Myer said, however, the number of DUI-related collisions has steadily declined as those arrests have risen.
“Last year, we had seven killed on I-20 in Kershaw County, making it the deadliest stretch of I-20 in the state,” he said. “Because of that, this year, we dedicated a little more enforcement on I-20. We’ve had only one fatality.”
Myers said speed appears to be a factor on I-20.
“We’ve routinely issued speeding citations to motorists traveling in excess of 100 mph. Just this past weekend, an officer with the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office and a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper each arrested two individuals driving at 145 mph and 136 mph,” Myers said.
It’s fatal collisions on secondary roads which have the KCSO worried now, Myer said.
“We have shifted more emphasis on our secondary roads in hopes of slowing down this carnage,” he said. Myers said the question now is what is the problem and how can it be solved.
“Do we get stricter with our enforcement? Do we need more officers so we can have a greater presence? Our traffic unit does not patrol the county on a 24-hour, seven-day a week basis. There are significant time periods where we have no traffic officers conducting traffic enforcement in Kershaw County,” Myers said.
He said large areas of the county do not even see deputies unless there is a problem.
“We also find there is a basic disregard for traffic laws by the vast majority of drivers,” Myers said.
Myers acknowledged Sheriff Jim Matthews “continually” asks for additional staff and is likely to seek two more officers for the traffic unit in 2016.
“But this presentation is not about asking for more manpower. I am here tonight to bring to your attention this serious issue of fatalities in our county. We must ask ourselves the following: What is an acceptable level of traffic fatalities per year in Kershaw County? Five? Ten? What is an acceptable level of fatalities for your family? And that answer is, probably, and obviously, zero. What would we be doing if we had 15 to 20 murders in Kershaw County every year? We would then get serious about doing something meaningful to address that problem? Traffic related deaths are preventable; murders, generally, are not,” Myers concluded.
Myers said one thing the KCSO hopes to do is visiting schools more often.
“We believe, especially after the third fatality of a Camden High School student, that we need to go into the schools a little more than just one time a year at Prom Promise to talk to kids about aggressive driving,” he said.
In response to a question from Councilman Dennis Arledge, Myer said he has seen “a little more” compliance with the state’s seatbelt law.
Myers also said Felder’s death is the ninth or 10th this year in a 45 mph or slower speed zone.
Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. called for better education of young drivers.
“It’s not just about giving them licenses and allowing them to drive. It’s about making sure they understand this is a deadly machine. It can kill you or kill someone,” Tucker said.
Of this year’s 18 fatalities, Myers said the most, six, were of people between the ages of 21 to 30. The second largest were of people 50 or older, showing him the fatalities are spread across age groups.
“It was sobering,” Burns said of Myers’ report. “We have 45 days left in a year that’s already been marred by tragedy.”
Also Tuesday, council passed first reading, by title only, of an ordinance which, if it passes third and final reading would transfer maintenance and operation -- but not ownership -- of the east Camden sewer line to the city of Camden. The line runs underneath U.S. 1 from the city limits at S.C. 34 (Bishopville Highway) to the Kershaw County Airport. The city would need to sign off on the agreement as well.
Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter told council the transfer makes sense because the line is completely removed from the rest of the county’s sewer system, is connected to the city’s system and the city already treats the line’s wastewater. Carpenter said the county loses money every month from the east Camden line, including a significant amount of travel time and cost to maintain the line.
Tucker also wanted an assurance county staff would bring the “nuts and bolts” of the agreement to council’s next meeting. Carpenter said staff would not be bringing an agreement which would not be fair to affected residents and taxpayers.
Councilman Jimmy Jones said he is glad the transfer could happen.
“This has been an elephant on the county and who supports (that) elephant? The citizens of the county up there in Buffalo-Mt. Pisgah, West Wateree, Liberty Hill -- they’re picking up the tab for this and it’s a drain on our citizens. I think it’s a win-win for everybody around. This is the best move we’ve ever made,” Jones said.
In a somewhat related matter, council passed a resolution authorizing county staff to seek an up to $650,000 loan from the State Revolving Fund to build a new administrative/laboratory building at the county’s wastewater treatment plant in Lugoff.
In other business Tuesday:
• Several citizens came forward during public comment to speak about conditions on their streets. Two residents each living on Gary Goff Road south of Elgin and Bateman Boulevard in east Camden said not enough is being done to maintain ditches so rainwater can drain properly. Richard Taylor, of Gary Goff Road, said calls to fix ditches result in only the portion in front of the caller’s home being fixed rather than the entire ditch. Luella Outen, of Bateman Boulevard, said she has asked for help for six years with water drainage problems with no results. Outen claimed county staff responding to her calls told her to place her property back on the market as a solution. She said a neighbor has been fighting the same problem for 45 years.
• Carpenter announced the county is filing for $4.08 million in assistance for flood-related recovery from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bulk of the request, $3.825 million, is for repairs to county-owned roads and bridges. Burns said Congress will vote on the package on Dec. 11. He and Carpenter said the county has been trying to learn more about FEMA’s work with individual citizens in order to coordinate assistance, but privacy issues have made this difficult.
• Council voted unanimously to appoint Shannon West to Paul Napper’s unexpired term on the Health Services District of Kershaw County Board of Trustees. Council also discussed the procedure by which it would appoint two other vacancies on the board. Ultimately, no one made a motion to again include an interview step in the process, which is not used for any other county board or commission.
• Council discussed the state’s local government fund, learning the state earned extra income and said the county is working with the county’s state delegation to have those funds returned to Kershaw and other counties. Carpenter said the state has shortchanged the county by about $800,000 to $900,000 each year since passing special legislation to bypass state law local funding requirements.
• Carpenter reported Moody’s recently raised the county’s bond rating to AA while Fitch has raised their rating to AA+. He said this could result in significant annual savings on bond interest rates.
• Council unanimously passed third and final reading of an ordinance authorizing the rezoning of a property on U.S. 1 in Cassatt to allow for the construction of a new Dollar General store.
• Council voted unanimously to cancel its Dec. 22 meeting.