CCSO: Charge could be upgraded for St. Patrick's Day DUI suspect

By Stacy

WADMALAW ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Charleston County Sheriff's Office said it could upgrade the charge for a man accused of hitting a woman while she was changing her tire on St. Patrick's Day.

The woman was changing the tire on Maybank Highway near Bears Bluff Road on Wadmalaw Island when Dennis O'Keefe hit her with his vehicle around 9:30 p.m., officials said. The victim was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina with life-threatening injuries.

O'Keefe flipped his car at the scene, officials said. He was arrested, taken to the hospital and released around 4 a.m., according to Maj. Eric Watson.

Former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon questioned why O'Keefe, charged with driving under the influence, was not charged with the felony version of DUI.

"When you have somebody still in the hospital, put in the hospital by a person charged with DUI, that would clearly meet the elements of felony DUI, which is a 15-year felony, when someone is causing serious bodily injury, which is the case here. It's puzzling," Condon said.

Watson, who serves as the public information officer for the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, said deputies are still investigating the incident.

"We will review the current charge and the possibility of upgrading it with the solicitor's office," Watson said.

Officials would have a decision by next Tuesday, Watson said. He said there was a question as to whether the victim's vehicle was partially parked in the road.

Meanwhile, Condon pointed out officials risk double jeopardy by waiting to possibly upgrade the charge.

"It's an issue that could be created by the way these charges have been made. Because [he] started off with DUI, [he] may have the ability to pay the ticket. He may argue you can't prosecute him again for possibly the same set of facts. It just creates an issue that may not otherwise exist," Condon said.

Condon said the circumstantial evidence of O'Keefe's green shirt shown in the mug shot, worn on St. Patrick's Day, further proves cause to charge him with the felony.

"Common sense indicates there was a celebration going on for St. Patrick's Day. Then you have this young lady who was apparently hit by him and she's in the hospital. There seems to be plenty of probable cause for felony DUI," Condon said.

Condon explained officers often will present charges that later get lessened.

Attorney Andy Savage is representing O'Keefe. In an email, he called the case "interesting," and said he is waiting for officials to release the incident report.

"I am anxious to find out where adverse car was stopped, artificial lighting, weather at the time, speed of our vehicle, color of victim's clothing, witnesses, etc.," Savage wrote in an email.

O'Keefe has been released from jail on $997 bond.