A former chicken farmer has been arrested in the deaths of more than 300,000 chickens at 16 farms in Clarendon and Sumter counties.
James Lowery, 44, is charged with eight counts of second-degree burglary and four counts of malicious damage to property.
Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said Lowery hit 16 farms in Clarendon and Sumter counties, turning off the temperature control settings and alarm systems in poultry grow houses, allowing the temperatures to drop and killing more than 300,000 chickens.
Lowery is a former farmer who contracted with Pilgrim’s Pride – just like most of the farmers he hit, Garrett said. But Lowery was let go by Pilgrim’s Pride and had an “ax to grind” with the company, Garrett said.
Garrett said he has contacted the U.S. Attorney’s office in Columbia and that Lowery also could be facing 16 federal charges of tampering with the food chain – one for each of the farms he hit. Each count could bring 20 years in prison.
Garrett was an early prime suspect and was arrested at his home in Sumter County on Tuesday evening, Garrett said. He did not resist arrest, he said.
This is one of the strangest cases he worked in his career, Garrett said, mostly because Pilgrim’s Pride wouldn’t cooperate. Garrett said the company severed it ties to Lowery because he was not able to maintain his chickens to Pilgrim’s Pride’s standards.
Efforts to reach officials at company headquarters in Washington D.C. for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Garrett said Lowery had requested a public defender.