Police won’t say if Aynor Mayor John Gardner was breaking the law when he was pulled over while driving a lawnmower with what officers at the scene said was an “open container” of beer.
But Horry County’s top law enforcement official Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson says he was.
Gardner, who’s also the chief financial officer for Horry County Schools, was pulled over while driving a lawnmower around 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 25 with what county police officers said was an “open container” of beer, according to a dashcam video.
He was not cited and officers can be heard saying they would “call Aynor” to handle the situation.
Aynor Police Chief David Thompson told The Sun News this week that Aynor police did not initiate nor investigate the stop, and that it would be inappropriate to comment on another agency’s decision.
Solicitor Richardson said, based on what he saw in the video, the stop would have resulted in a ticket had the officers chosen to take action.
“Honestly, I have no idea if it would have risen to the level of a DUI,” he said. “I’ve been asked can you get a DUI on a lawnmower. You could.”
When asked, Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill wouldn’t comment on the legality of driving a lawnmower at night with an open container of beer.
“I’d have to dig into the code section on that,” said Hill, adding that police spokeswoman Krystal Dotson would answer the question, but despite several requests, she hasn’t responded to that specific question.
According to South Carolina law, “It is unlawful for a person to have in his possession, except in the trunk or luggage compartment, beer or wine in an open container in a motor vehicle of any kind while located upon the public highways or highway rights of way of this state.”
The state defines motor vehicle as “every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires but not operated upon rails.”
The video, first obtained by The Sun News on Friday, shows Gardner being followed by Horry County police for 1 minute and 25 seconds, at times with their blue lights on right behind him, before stopping.
The video shows an officer picking up a can out of the mower and telling Gardner, “Miller Lite that you’re drinking, going down the road. You know you shouldn’t be doing that.”
“You also have an open container,” another Horry County police officer says in the video.
“I know, I apologize for that,” replied Gardner.
Gardner later asked the officers to take him to Aynor Town Hall.
The officers made Gardner pour out the beer, which Gardner now contends was not open.
“It was unopened to the best of my knowledge,” Gardner said in a Sept. 8 interview. “I remember opening it to pour it out.”
Dotson said this week it was the “officer’s discretion” to call Aynor instead of handling the situation themselves.
Richardson said he didn’t know if Gardner’s position as mayor had anything to do with the way the stop was handed.
“I know how it looks but all of us have got a break at some point,” he said.