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S.C. House candidates' families trade accusations of sign theft; Signs set off car chase, crash

Police are investigating allegations of stolen political signs and an altercation between the wife of an S.C. House candidate and the father of his opponent.

Police were called to Wachesaw East in Murrells Inlet about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in response to a complaint from Tim Wilkes, father of candidate Mande Wilkes. He told police Martina Hardwick, the wife of S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick, had chased him and struck his vehicle, according to the incident report from the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office.

Wilkes is challenging incumbent Hardwick for the House District 106 seat.

On Thursday, prior to a candidates forum at Burgess Elementary School Mande Wilkes said, regarding the incident, that the state does not need "petty politics," but "good representation and not reckless distractions."

Nelson Hardwick, also before Thursday's forum, said "the signs are a problem."

"Signs are the worst thing you have to deal with," said Hardwick, who said he has received calls from people regarding an opponent's signs on their property. "People's tempers flare. The race, you got to not make it about signs, but the message and what you stand for. Let's not make it a sign war."

Tim Wilkes and Martina Hardwick agreed Thursday the incident stemmed from allegations of political signs for their respective family members being damaged and stolen.

In the report, Hardwick told police she was checking her husband's signs on Tournament Boulevard when she saw Wilkes putting her husband's signs in his vehicle. She said she asked for them back and Wilkes left so she followed him. She told police the crash occurred when Wilkes backed into her vehicle.

Wilkes told police he was on Tournament Boulevard when a woman pulled up behind him and they argued about political signs, according to the police report. Wilkes said the woman threatened him with a gun and he got into his vehicle to flee the area. He said he was trying to get away from the woman when she bumped his vehicle at the guard gate at Wachesaw East.

He told police the woman followed him and he made it to his home where he called 911.

A guard at the entrance to Wachesaw East told police she saw "two vehicles come flying into the entrance," according to the report. She said Wilkes told her not to let the woman inside the gated neighborhood, and when Wilkes pulled forward Hardwick struck his vehicle from behind.

On Thursday, Nelson Hardwick and Mande Wilkes participated in a candidates forum with Horry County Council chairman candidates Howard Barnard and Tom Rice and Horry County Council District 5 candidates Bill McKown, Paul Price and Dick Withington.

"It's a crime," Rice said about the allegations concerning signs before the forum. "It's childish, shouldn't play those kind of games."

McKown said "it's really unfortunate when politics cross that line." He said candidates and their family members should be held to a higher standard.

Withington, Price, and Barnard said they didn't know about the incident prior to Thursday.

On Thursday, Tim Wilkes said several of his daughter's political signs have been stolen and he routinely replaces them each day. He said he was on his way back from Conway when he saw his daughter's signs were gone from that area. He said he stopped to retrieve pieces of it from a nearby wooded area when Hardwick drove up.

"Every day I do it and every day they're taken down," Wilkes said. "Every day they take hers. It's unbelievable. It became an issue with the signs."