State drops DUI charge against suspended mayor

Retha Pierce learned in court Tuesday that the DUI charge against her was dropped. / Joel Allen

The suspended mayor of Atlantic Beach has been cleared of a drunk driving charge. Toxicology tests for Retha Pierce came back negative for alcohol or other drugs, so the Marion County solicitor's office dropped the charge.

Pierce remains suspended as mayor, pending resolution of a hit-and-run case against her..

In September, 2009, Pierce was charged with driving under the influence by a state trooper, who said another driver had seen her weaving in and out of traffic on Interstate 95 in Marion County.

Pierce has always contended that she was just sleepy that day and had pulled off the road to rest, and that breath and urine tests would clear her.

That's what happened Tuesday in magistrate's court in Mullins.

"As far as the charge here today, your honor, it is nolle pros," Assistant 12th Circuit Solicitor Steven Deberry told Magistrate Danny Barker.

Nolle pros is an abbreviation of a Latin term that means to no longer prosecute.

Pierce and her supporters claim the driving under the influence charge was politically motivated.

"When you mix politics and law enforcement, it is a volatile mix because the outcome is always going to be bad," said Benny Webb of the Palmetto Center for Law & Justice

The DUI arrest was Pierce's fourth over a two-year period.

She was charged with reckless driving and resisting arrest on Christmas day, 2007. The case resulted in a hung jury and has not been retried.

In January, 2009, Pierce was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct from an incident at the Atlantic Beach town hall. A judge dropped the charges when the arresting officers failed to show up in court.

Pierce was indicted on thehit-and-run charge in April, 2009.

Pierce's supporters claim, some of those charges seem to be contrived.

"Because there's no such thing as coincidence this many times," Webb said.

Though Pierce is still suspended as mayor, she says she, and the town of Atlantic Beach, are headed in a positive direction.

"If we are allowed to proceed forward and not be depicted as ignorant folks, criminal folks, always in a negative context, Atlantic Beach has a bright future."

12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements says he's not sure why it took so long to drop the charges, when the toxicology results were known more than a year ago.

The reckless driving charge that ended in a hung jury will be retried, according to Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree. Trial dates for that case, and the pending hit-and-run charge, have not been set.

Charlene Taylor took over as acting Atlantic Beach mayor, after former Governor Mark Sanford suspended Pierce from office in October, 2009.