Year In Review: Crime in Northern Beaufort Co.

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comDecember 29, 2011 

After a yearlong battle with drivers, defense attorneys and state lawmakers, Ridgeland pulled the plug on its speed cameras on Interstate 95 this year, and the town's voters chose not to re-elect the program's staunchest supporter.

Town officials announced in June they would stop the use of automated traffic cameras after state legislators passed a law banning them and the use of photographic evidence for issuing speeding tickets. It was voted as the top crime, court or public safety story of 2011 in northern Beaufort County by the staff of The Beaufort Gazette.

The town deployed the cameras in August 2010 despite a law that banned their use except in emergencies and that banned tickets based on photographic evidence.

Mayor Gary Hodges and other town officials claimed the law didn't apply to their program and said the cameras reduced speeding and fatal crashes on the town's stretch of the highway. The legislature changed the law to force the cameras' removal.

Hodges was defeated in the November election by former mayor and Jasper County Probate Judge Joey Malphrus.

Other top stories:

2. MAN CHARGED IN SHOOTING ALLEGEDLY ATTEMPTS JAIL BREAK

While in jail on manslaughter and weapons charges in connection with a fatal shooting Christmas Eve 2010, Bluffton tow-truck operator Preston Oates allegedly tried to break out of his cell at the Beaufort County Detention Center in March. According to arrest warrants, Oates spent about 10 days cutting a 4- to 5-inch hole in the bottom half of the cell's 3-by-3-foot window before he was caught. He was placed in disciplinary segregation for 60 days as punishment and charged by a grand jury with attempted escape and willful injury to a courthouse or jail. A judge's ruling is expected in January on whether his manslaughter and weapons charges will be dismissed.

3. DEATH STILL A MYSTERY

Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators still are trying to determine how the body of a 32-year-old St. Helena Island man ended up in a burning car on the island on Oct. 11 and whether the killing is connected to another death less than a week earlier. The body of Joseph Frank Washington was discovered in the burning wreckage of a Buick sedan near Folly Road; he was shot in the head before the car was set on fire, authorities said. Investigators are examining possible connections between Washington's death and the death Oct. 5 of Julius Edward Chaplin, 44, whose body was found in his driveway after being shot twice in the head, according to the Sheriff's Office.

4. MAN KILLED IN VIOLENT WEEK

A 28-year-old Burton man was killed in July, capping off a violent week in northern Beaufort County. Travis Sentell Holmes was inside a Subway sandwich shop on Robert Smalls Parkway on July 26 when investigators said he was shot and killed by Rajerick Lovell Knight, 23, of Burton. That week's rash of gun violence also resulted in the arrest of a 17-year-old Beaufort teen who allegedly opened fire on a group of men playing basketball near the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center.

5. STATE SUED OVER IMMIGRATION LAW

Beaufort resident Yajaira Benet-Smith, who was born in Venezuela and has a green card, and the Hilton Head Island-based Lowcountry Immigration Coalition sued the state of South Carolina on Oct. 19 over its new immigration law, parts of which were temporarily struck down this month by a federal judge. The law requires law enforcement officers to check a person's immigration status during arrests and routine traffic stops if it is suspected the person is in the country illegally. The lawsuit argues this will leave people of foreign descent or appearance "in constant jeopardy of harassment and unlawfully prolonged detention and arrest."

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