Troopers: Deputy driving 119 MPH at impact

The South Carolina Highway Patrol has finished an investigation into a spectacular crash involving a Darlington County Sheriff's Department narcotics vehicle in March. The patrol's investigation put the deputy's speed at 119 miles an hour, less than a second before impact.

The crash happened on Highway 151 in Darlington inside the 35 miles an hour speed zone, directly in front of the Manheim Auto Auction. It happened March 15 after the sheriff said three of his narcotics officers were responding to a call where shots were reported fired at a fellow officer when he lost control of the vehicle.

There were three deputies inside the SUV: Benjamin Dale Weatherford, driver, Jacqueline Tara Gause, seated in the front passenger seat, and Lonnie Craig Braddock, who was seated in the back seat. All three were treated and released following the crash.   

Dispatch records show the suspect was "chasing after" an unmarked narcotics vehicle, "and "pointing a gun in the air and firing." Records show deputies accused the suspect of "pointing (the gun) at officer in roadway," but the dispatch report does not indicate the suspect fired at any officers.

Call logs also show the only officer inside the SUV who responded to the call was Gause, whose call number is N-10, which indicates she works in the narcotics division of the sheriff's department. Records show Gause's badge identification wasn't dispatched to the scene until 25 minutes after the initial call.

Troopers said another driver pulled out in front of Weatherford, who was driving the unmarked 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe, but the report states the civilian driver, "would have been unable to see," the deputies closing in. The patrol report shows the deputy's SUV swerved to miss the other driver, then hit a curb and rolled multiple times. The crash started inside of the 45 miles an hour zone and the SUV landed inside a 35 miles an hour zone.

On May 8, Sheriff Wayne Byrd suspended Weatherford for five days without pay, nearly two months after the crash. "This was an unfortunate event involving a good officer," Sheriff Byrd said. "He loves and serves the people of Darlington County and would never intentionally put them at risk."

Sheriff Byrd added, "I have reviewed the findings of the Highway Patrol's MAIT Team. I have taken into account the circumstances that set this all into motion, and I have also considered the deputy's background and record of service. This punishment is tough but fair and reflects the fact that the deputy made a mistake in judgment." Byrd said he ordered a review of department policies concerning call response.  

Byrd allowed the deputy to work through the week of May 8, telling WIS, "I can't have him off during race week." Weatherford's suspension ended last Friday.

The Highway Patrol has not filed charges in connection to the crash.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.