Myrtle Beach Police were investigating a sexual assault this spring, and they had run out of clues.
The victim had not seen the attacker and there were no other leads. “A woman was brutally assaulted in the town area, and it was one of those cases that you really need to get this person in jail,” Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall said.
Police did have DNA evidence, but in working to ensure the attacker did not go free, they faced a hurdle there, too. Using the lab run by the State Law Enforcement Division, while free, could mean significant delays in getting results.
“If we were to send that evidence to SLED, it would take probably 12 to 24 months to get that evidence back,” Gall said.
So instead, the police took the evidence to an accredited forensics lab in Richland County and paid $1,200 to have a sample processed in a little over a week. It happened to match with a man who already was in county jail, and police were able to keep the suspect off the streets.
Had they waited for SLED results, Gall said, the man likely would have been out of the jail system when they identified him.
The high fees for private lab processing can add up quickly, so Gall, along with City Manager John Pedersen, said in a City Council workshop Tuesday that Myrtle Beach has been urging its statehouse delegation to establish regional labs.
“I think it was favorably received when we had the discussion with the legislators,” Pedersen said. “They were very interested.”
SLED Spokesman Thom Berry said that local agencies can already request that the agency fast-track work, particularly if it’s in relation to a violent crime.
“We prioritize all of the cases that come in, especially from an agency that says, ‘We need this back as fast as you can do it,’” he said, adding that staff are available to work nights and weekends for special cases.
Gall did say Myrtle Beach has called to expedite requests before, but, “You can’t go to the well but so many times.”
Berry also said SLED is building a new, expanded facility that will process the 6,000 DNA requests it receives every year. The agency is still searching for a site, but it’s likely to be in the Columbia area, he said.
But Myrtle Beach officials said they’re in favor of police paying to process samples elsewhere if they think it’s necessary.
“It’s worth it,” Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said.
Clarification: Berry has updated his statements, and an earlier version of this story should have said that SLED is replacing its lab, not building a second one.