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York coroner arrested while on probation

York County, S.C., Coroner Doug McKown was arrested in North Carolina this week after drinking beer while driving a county vehicle and traveling with a man suspected of smoking crack cocaine, authorities said.

McKown, 39, was charged with violating his probation Friday afternoon and booked at the York County Detention Center. He denied the charges.

His arrest comes less than two months after he was acquitted of felony cocaine charges in York County. After the acquittal, McKown returned to the elected coroner post Gov. Mark Sanford suspended him from in 2006.

McKown's probation is related to his conviction for unlawfully possessing a prescription drug – half a Viagra pill that police found in his home – a misdemeanor charge.

His latest arrest stems from a Thursday night incident in Lincoln County, according to the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

McKown was driving his county-issued white Chevy Blazer around 9 p.m. Thursday with 43-year-old Eric Howell of Gastonia when a deputy pulled the SUV over, according to a Lincoln County Sheriff's Office report.

The deputy had noticed the vehicle in the parking lot of a convenience store, where he spotted Howell using a beverage can to smoke, the report stated. The deputy recognized the technique as one used to smoke crack or methamphetamine. As the deputy was getting out of his patrol car, Howell saw him, put the can down and said something to McKown, the report stated.

McKown backed out of his parking space and drove away. As the deputy pulled McKown over, he saw a can being tossed out of the passenger's window, the report stated. McKown told the deputy he went into the convenience store to buy gum, and, when he got back to the vehicle, Howell told him that they needed to leave because the police were there, the report stated.

But the deputy said he had seen both of them in the vehicle while Howell was smoking. When the deputy asked Howell what he was smoking, Howell told him he was using crack, the report stated.

The deputy said he smelled alcohol on McKown's breath and asked if he had been drinking. McKown told him he had two beers, the report stated. McKown performed a sobriety test, but it was inconclusive, and he refused to take a breath test, according to the report. Authorities found three open bottles of beer in the vehicle.

McKown and Howell were arrested and taken to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

McKown was cited for drinking while driving and an open container violation but was not jailed. Howell was charged with an open container violation, littering and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was taken to jail and released on a $500 bond.

The discarded can was recovered but had not been tested Friday.

The county's Blazer was impounded.

Howell denies smoking crack and said he didn't tell police he had.

“They asked that question and my comment was like, ‘Yeah, right,'” Howell said. “I would submit to a drug test. … I don't use drugs.”

McKown said he wasn't drinking that night. When he picked up Howell, he said his friend had a 12-pack of beer. He said he didn't know Howell was drinking in the vehicle until the deputy stopped him.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services said McKown violated his probation by lying to an agent and supervisor about his N.C. arrest, not immediately notifying an agent of his arrest and leaving the state without permission, among other offenses. If a judge determines McKown violated his probation, he could serve a year in prison.

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