York County Councilman Eric Winstead posted bail Thursday morning and blamed a blown tire for the crash that put him in jail overnight in Chester County.
He also disputed some of the facts as stated by the authorities who arrested him.
Winstead was arrested Wednesday morning after police say he hit a sign with his car and left the scene of the accident on foot – the first-term Republican’s second arrest since taking office last year.
Lance Cpl. Billy Elder with the S.C. Highway Patrol said Winstead was driving north on Old York Road north of Chester around 2 a.m. Wednesday when he drove off the right side of the road, struck a highway sign and a ditch, then left the scene on foot, leaving his car behind. Authorities later arrested him at his home in York.
The incident occurred on Old York Road near Gethsemane Church Road, about halfway between Chester and Lowrys.
Winstead, 39, was charged with driving too fast for conditions and leaving the scene of an accident in Chester County.
Thursday afternoon at his home in York, Winstead said he doesn’t recall hitting a sign and didn’t think to call the police since he only had a blown tire. He was going to deal with it the next morning, he said.
Winstead also disputes the Highway Patrol’s account that the accident happened at 2 a.m. Wednesday.
“I don’t know why I’d be out that late,” Winstead said. “I don’t know where they get it happened at two o’clock in the morning because I was home.”
Winstead said he’d spent much of Tuesday afternoon in Chester where he was visiting businesses about the possibility of installing security systems, a job he’s been doing on the side for a friend.
When he left Chester it was dark, he said, but he doesn’t remember exactly what time it was.
“I remember the tire popping and me jerking the wheel, or the wheel jerking me,” he said.
When he tried to keep the car out of the ditch it rolled into it and got stuck and he couldn’t get out.
Winstead said he had no way to call his wife or anyone else and said his cell phone was disconnected, but he didn’t understand why he was supposed to call the police.
“When I hit a deer, they give me a number, so I didn’t think about calling them for a flat tire.”
When the officers arrived at his home, Winstead said they asked him about the car and they arrested him. The officers administered a roadside sobriety test and did not pursue a breathalyzer, Winstead said.
Winstead said the officers didn’t mention the sign until they were driving back to Chester.
“To be honest with you, I really do not know why I was arrested, but it doesn’t matter because the judgment is going to be out there.”
The incident came five months after Winstead was arrested in York on drunken driving charge. Some York County Republicans who supported Winstead’s decision to stay in office then reacted to his Wednesday arrest with recommendations that he step down from his County Council post.
Winstead was arrested in December after a York County Sheriff’s deputy stopped his car for swerving on U.S. 321 in York.
Winstead was charged with driving under the influence, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 to 0.16, and having an open container of beer or wine.
The legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.08.
In January, Winstead pleaded guilty to the first-offense DUI charge and paid a $1,022 fine. The open container charge was dropped.
After successfully completing an alcohol and drug abuse program, Winstead was given a provisional driver’s license, which he was driving on at the time of his arrest, records show.
Winstead was driving Thursday and said any impact on his driving privileges would go into effect after court, but he said he doesn’t think he’ll be convicted.
Cpl. Bryan McDougald with the S.C. Highway Patrol said Winstead had a “valid operative license” at the time of his arrest, and that any outcomes of the charges, including pending impacts on his license, “would be resolved through the courts” and other state agencies.
On Thursday, Winstead said he needed to talk to his wife about what steps the family would take and whether he would continue to serve on the York County Council.
“The odds just seem to be stacked against me. I can’t seem to do anything right. I don’t know what the deal is, but maybe I just ain’t supposed to be in there,” he said.