Recalling how a drunk driver took a life dear to him, new S.C. Highway Patrol Commander Christopher Williamson said highway safety will be his top issue.
“We want to make sure we save people’s lives on the highways,” said Williamson, the first African-American to lead South Carolina’s highway troopers. Williamson’s promotion was announced Friday.
The State asked the Darlington County native about his nearly 30-year Highway Patrol career that led, last week, to him being placed in charge of policing S.C. highways and keeping travelers safe:
Q: What made you decide to join the Highway Patrol?
A: “I found my passion for law enforcement, wanting to be a law enforcement officer, at a young age of 12 years old. My 9-year-old sister was killed by a drunk driver. ... I watched my parents go through that suffering and have to deal with it. And my mentality then was that when I become of age, I would go to college, get a degree ... (and) take drunk drivers off the road and make a difference. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Q: How do you feel about being the first African-American to lead the Highway Patrol?
A: “The fact that I’m African-American, I have no control over. I just happen to be African-American, but I feel like I’m the colonel for all people regardless of the color of my skin. I have the skill set, the ability, the education and the background to be able to do this job and save people’s lives and help accomplish the mission towards highway safety issues.”
Q: What have you learned about South Carolina as a highway patrolman?
A: “I’ve learned that if you work hard and treat people fair, do the right thing and show people your skill set and ability, that anything in this state is possible – that you can accomplish your dreams and goals and you can definitely be successful and move forward.”
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome on the Highway Patrol?
A: “(L)earning the laws of this state, learning what it takes to try to have to deal with people from all walks of life when you’re out there making traffic stops and trying to keep our highways safe. You run into people from all walks of life, from all nationalities, from all parts of the world that travel through our roadways.
“And you may meet people with different personalities, and you’ve got to be a person in law enforcement that wears different hats. People you stop – everybody’s not the same. That can be a challenge if you are not a person that has those interpersonal skills and are able to converse with people on any level. ... I was able to learn that early on and it has really paid off for me.”
New Highway Patrol chief
S.C. Highway Patrol Col. Christopher Williamson
From: Darlington County
Education: Fayetteville State University
Family: Married, with two daughters and two granddaughters
Career: S.C. Highway Patrol in Berkeley County and worked in the Orangeburg/Charleston region until he joined headquarters in 2011.