Jury declines to indict Berkeley Co. deputy in fatal motorcycle pursuit

Damage to the right front of the Berkeley deputy's vehicle. (Source: Berkeley Co. Sheriff's Office)
Damage to the right front of the Berkeley deputy's vehicle. (Source: Berkeley Co. Sheriff's Office)

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A grand jury has declined to indict a Berkeley County Sheriff's Office deputy in connection to a high-speed chase that ended with the death of a 30-year-old motorcyclist.

The sheriff's office release stated a grand jury in Dorchester County declined to indict Deputy James Vansant in connection to the April 19 death of Robert Lee Clark Jr. of Goose Creek

BCSO officials say Vansant attempted to stop a motorcycle driven by Clark who they say was driving the vehicle erratically and failed to stop for the marked police cruiser.

"This attempt to stop turned into a vehicle pursuit," the sheriff's office said.

According to a report by the sheriff's office, the pursuit lasted several minutes and, ultimately, Clark was killed after his motorcycle crashed.

Vansant was placed on administrative leave until the case could be thoroughly investigated by the South Carolina Highway Patrol, BCSO officials said.

The sheriff's office said that the findings of that investigation and the coroner's report were provided to the Dorchester County Grand Jury.

"The grand jury declined to indict Deputy Vansant on any charges," BCSO officials said in a statement."The Berkeley County Sheriff's Office will now complete our internal investigation and Deputy Vansant will remain on leave pending the outcome of the investigation."

"It is important to realize that deputies have a dangerous job. Traffic stops and domestic violence investigations are among the most dangerous and unpredictable things that they do. It's unfortunate that a loss of life occurred in this case and both families have been impacted by this incident," Sheriff Duane Lewis stated.

Initial incident and reports

A deputy on patrol on College Park Road at approximately 11:51 p.m. on April 19 spotted a motorcycle speeding toward Crowfield Boulevard from the direction of I-26, according to Chief Deputy Mike Cochran.

Deputies say the motorcycle was traveling approximately 66 mph in a posted 45 mph zone.

The motorcyclist sped up and refused to stop when the deputy turned on his blue lights, a release from the sheriff's office states.

Speeds in the ensuing chase reached up to 111 mph at times with the motorcyclist slamming on the breaks and then speeding away several times.

The sheriff's office said the pursuit continued up College Park Road, then onto Highway 17A and then West 1st Street in Summerville, covering a total of approximately 7.75 miles over five-and-a-half minutes.

At the end of the pursuit, the motorcyclist applied the brakes sharply and the motorcycle slowed rapidly, then swerved to the right in an apparent attempt to go around a vehicle that had yielded for blue lights, a release states.

When the motorcyclist attempted to accelerate away, the operator appears to have missed a gear while the motorcycle continued to slow, causing contact between the motorcycle and the front right corner of the deputy's vehicle, Cochran said.

This caused the motorcyclist to lose control and strike the curb between the vehicle that had yielded and the sidewalk.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. All rights reserved.