Ex-York coroner put on house arrest

For the second time this year, former York County Coroner Doug McKown has avoided prison.

Judge John Few sentenced McKown on Friday to 30 days of house arrest, a far weaker punishment than what state probation officials had requested. The S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services had wanted McKown, 39, jailed for 90 days for violating his probation.

Instead, Few ruled that local authorities will use electronic monitoring to track McKown for 30 days. McKown must stay at home unless he goes to work, church, a doctor's office or to perform his court-mandated community service. Few also forced the former coroner to pay a $250 fine.

McKown was cited in July in North Carolina for drinking while driving and having an open bottle of beer in his vehicle. The next day, McKown was arrested in York County and charged with violating his probation. His probation agent said the former coroner lied to probation officials about his N.C. case, didn't immediately notify an agent about his arrest and left the state without permission, among other offenses.

But in court Friday, McKown's attorney Jack Swerling argued that McKown didn't think he has been arrested in North Carolina because he was not booked in a jail. McKown simply appeared before a magistrate and was given two citations.

Swerling also said McKown left the state to pick up Eric Howell, his boss at a Gastonia funeral home. Howell was drunk and needed a ride home, Swerling said. N.C. authorities said Howell was smoking crack cocaine in McKown's county-owned Chevy Blazer.

McKown never tried to hide the case from probation officials, Swerling said, noting that McKown called his probation agent at 9:17 a.m. the day after he was cited in North Carolina. That day he also took a drug test, which came back negative.

McKown's probation agent, Cresinna Underwood, said McKown lied when he told her that he hadn't been arrested and had only been ticketed. She said he had been arrested and should have called her as soon as her office opened that morning.

“My phone should have been ringing at 8:30,” she said.

In May, McKown was acquitted of felony cocaine charges, the allegations that led Gov. Mark Sanford to suspend him from office in 2006. McKown returned to the coroner's post in June after his acquittal, but resigned after his N.C arrest.