York County Council member Eric Winstead was arrested early Friday on drunken driving and open container charges, according to police records.
Winstead, 39, was booked at the Moss Justice Center and charged with driving under the influence, .10 but less than .16, and open container of beer or wine, according to York County Sheriff's Office reports. He was released Friday morning on a personal recognizance bond.
Around midnight, a York County Sheriff's deputy noticed a white Toyota Corolla traveling north on Chester Highway (U.S. 321) in York. The vehicle was swerving and crossed the center line several times, according to an incident report.
After the deputy pulled over the car and looked inside, he saw an empty and open Crown Royal Black whiskey bottle in the passenger seat.
The deputy smelled alcohol coming from the vehicle, and noticed the driver's eyes were red and glazed, the report states.
The driver, Winstead, at first said he had "a beer or two," but later said he also had whiskey, the report states.
When the officer told Winstead he crossed the line several times, Winstead responded, "Maybe I had more tonight than I thought I did," the report states.
Winstead told the deputy he had a rough day at work and doesn't usually drink.
Winstead failed road sobriety tests, including not counting correctly, and his speech was slightly slurred, according to the report. His blood alcohol level was .11, which is .03 above the legal limit, the report states.
When reached for comment Friday afternoon, Winstead said, "I did something wrong. I made a mistake. I had stopped and got a small bottle of Crown Royal because it was a rough day on the job. ... I had taken a couple drinks out of the bottle and I got pulled over."
Winstead said he was driving back from a hospice open house for a new location in Fairfield County.
According to the report, he told the deputy he had stopped at a bar on his way home, but Winstead said that's not so.
Before attending the "after hours" event, he said he stopped to get the bottle of liquor and had a couple drinks. He had a couple beers at the event. He then drove home and didn't have another drink, he said. He stopped at a fast food restaurant in Chester for a hamburger.
Winstead has no prior criminal history in South Carolina, state records show. His driving record for the past 10 years lists one speeding viotation of 10 mph or less.
Fines, jail time and community service are possible penalties Winstead faces. His court date is in late January, he said.
Not a drop in 16 years
Winstead is a first-term Republican on the County Council and a longtime resident of York. He is the council's vice chairman who represents District 3, which covers much of western York County.
He graduated from Fruitland Baptist Bible College in 2003 and works as a chaplain for Hospice Care of South Carolina.
He said he expects to be suspended from work without pay, but is glad he might still have a job, given the circumstances.
Winstead said he hadn't had any alcohol in 16 years until his father's death in January.
The "most important revelation" he's learned from this experience is, "you can't counsel yourself," Winstead said. "I counsel everybody else, and for some reason I was too prideful to think I can counsel other people, but I should be able to handle this myself."
Winstead said he's had a few moments where something has triggered a memory of his father and a desire to drink.
He plans to seek counseling for his grief, the "underlying cause" of the drinking, which he said isn't a problem. He's had similar moments a few times in the last year, but he was at home when they happened, he said.
He said he's doesn't want to run cowardly away from what happened, despite what others are saying, and he feels confident that he's done a good job on the council and will continue to do so.
"People are going to say what they're going to say about me," he said. "My primary concern is I've got two little girls and a wife that I not only disappointed but put in the limelight, and they're having to see me in it in a negative way."
Chad Williams, who serves with Winstead on the County Council, said, "When you're an elected official ... you definitely give up some of your personal life."
"I can only imagine what he might be going through and what the rest of the story is," Williams said.
On whether Winstead should resign, Williams would not comment.
"We need to make sure whatever comes out of it is best for the county," he said. "It's a little early to say."
"To expect any human being to be perfect is an unrealistic expectation, but to expect your elected officials to do what they need to do and be knowledgeable and vote accordingly, that is a very realistic expectation," Williams said, adding that Winstead is always prepared for meetings.
Having only just heard of Winstead's arrest, Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said, "It's a tough time for a lot of people" with the economy being the way it is.
Councilman David Bowman said he was "very surprised and sad" about the news.
After talking with Winstead Friday afternoon, Bowman said Winstead seemed aware of the gravity of the situation.
Winstead said he had received several calls of support Friday. He plans to attend the York County Council meeting Monday night.
"It's not how you fall down," he said. "It's how you get back up."