McKown's court date nears

Four times, Doug McKown was scheduled to appear in a North Carolina courtroom.

Four times, the case against the former York County coroner was postponed.

The delays helped McKown because he could be charged with violating his probation in South Carolina if he pleads guilty in Lincoln County, N.C., to the two alcohol-related violations he received in July.

He even asked a judge in September if those charges could be put off until June, when his year of probation for a misdemeanor drug conviction will be over. The judge denied McKown's request.

The case was pushed back two more times after that, but the prosecutor handling it says McKown won't delay the matter indefinitely, certainly not until June.

"That ain't going to happen," assistant district attorney Kay Killian said. "It's not going to go that far. I'm sure. He's probably getting close to the outer limit by now."

McKown's case was twice postponed because he didn't have an attorney in North Carolina. As for the later delays, Killian said she knew at least one was because a Charlotte lawyer called at the last minute saying she was representing McKown but was in another court and couldn't be there.

"That's not extremely unusual," Killian said of a case being postponed four times. "With attorneys, they tend to get continued longer because attorneys have to be in other courts."

Superior court cases, she said, typically take precedent over those in a lower court. While an unrepresented person would probably not get extensions, someone who has an attorney with other cases stands a better chance of delaying the issue.

That, she said, happens frequently.

Kenneth Gaines, a University of South Carolina law professor, agreed that an attorney's other cases could be considered a legitimate excuse. But if the delays persist, judges will eventually catch on.

"He's pushing it," he said of McKown. "He's running and dodging, but you run out of places to hide pretty soon."

For other extensions, Gaines said, "the excuse is really going to have to be a whopper."

In August, McKown was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest for violating his probation.

The North Carolina case was brought up then, but McKown's South Carolina attorney Jack Swerling argued that his client shouldn't be punished for charges that hadn't been settled in court.

McKown, however, has admitted that his friend, Eric Howell of Gastonia, N.C., was drinking beer in McKown's county-owned SUV when a Lincoln County sheriff's deputy stopped them July 17.

That deputy smelled alcohol on McKown's breath and asked him if he'd been drinking, according to a sheriff's office report. McKown told him he'd had two beers and performed a sobriety test, but it was inconclusive.

McKown refused to take a breath test, the report stated.

Authorities found three open bottles of Coors Light beer in the vehicle. Both McKown and Howell were arrested and taken to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

McKown maintains he went to North Carolina that night to pick up Howell, who was drunk and needed a ride home. He claims he didn't know Howell was drinking when authorities stopped them.

But McKown has acknowledged an open beer was in his vehicle, and that was enough to prompt him to leave his elected post.

He'd actually just returned to that office. After a nearly two-year suspension, McKown came back to work in June after he was acquitted of felony cocaine charges.

But he was sentenced to a year's probation after being convicted of unlawfully possessing a prescription drug, a misdemeanor charge tied to a half-pill of Viagra police found in his home.

If McKown pleads guilty to the North Carolina charges, state probation officials have said he would be in violation of his probation. And if that happens and McKown is arrested, a judge could force him to serve the rest of his sentence in prison.

McKown's attorney, Julia Mimms, could not be reached for comment.

McKown's next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 17.

Charles D. Perry • 329-4068