UPDATE: Surveillance video appears to show Mayor-elect's SUV before wreck

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/WCSC) - Newly-obtained surveillance video appears to show Columbia Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin's vehicle just a few blocks away from where Benjamin was involved in an early-morning accident Wednesday.

Video from a camera at Oyster Bar Columbia, near the intersection of Park and Gervais streets, shows a vehicle similar to the Mercedes R-series Benjamin was driving when the accident happened.

The video is not timestamped, so determining when the car was captured on video is not possible.

The vehicle approaches Gervais, signals for a right turn and then makes the turn. But the angle of the camera does not permit a look at the front end of the vehicle, making it difficult to determine whether the headlights are on. A law enforcement source has said at least one witness to the accident believes the SUV did not have its headlights on.

The news came as city leaders discussed their difference of opinion about what policing agency should investigate the accident.

Shortly after the crash, Columbia city police took control of the investigation. A couple of hours later, they called South Carolina Highway Patrol officers for assistance, but the city never asked the state agency to handle the case. On Friday, Police Chief Tandy Carter said he would continue to lead the probe.

"We all believe in the principles embodied in the Constitution," Carter said in a news conference. "And I will tell you that we are going to make sure the law is enforced both constitutionally and consistently throughout."

Carter won support for his decision from Columbia Urban League Director J.T. McLawhorn. "He's not the type of person that's going to be influenced by political persuasion," said McLawhorn. "He has a history."

Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said the police department can conduct a fair investigation. But she and others in city government said Friday that Carter should remove all doubt and hand over the case.

"I think having control of the investigation leads people to speculate as to whether or not the investigation is being handled the same way it would be if it were anyone else," she said. "And although I don't think it is being handled differently, I think to alleviate that speculation, another agency would be best."

Carter spoke for the first time at length about Wednesday's incident. He said officers, both city and state, saw no indications Benjamin was impaired on his early-morning drive.

"We did talk to Mr. Benjamin," said Carter. "He was very cooperative with us. He was very visibly upset, based on the officers' observation of that particular incident."

Investigators have taken statements from at least three eyewitnesses. They have not been able to speak to Deborah Rubens, the Clarion Hotel waitress driving the car rammed by Benjamin's Mercedes.

"We have not been able to talk to Ms. Rubens because of her condition and before we draw any conclusions and make some conclusions, we'd like to be able to talk to her to see if we can ascertain any contributing factors to that," said Carter.

Police are also still trying to obtain video from any other surveillance cameras that might show whether Benjamin's headlights were on in the pre-dawn hours.

Carter said investigators are trying to determine whether the vehicle was equipped with a data recorder that could pinpoint how fast Benjamin was traveling, along with other information.

Previous Stories:

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.