Politics & Government

January 31, 2014

SC Transportation Department chief resigns after DUI arrest

Robert St. Onge was arrested shortly before 8 a.m. Friday after being pulled over by a Lexington County Sheriff’s Department deputy while traveling eastbound on Interstate 20 near Bush River Road, said Sgt. Bob Beres with the S.C. Highway Patrol.

State Department of Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge resigned after he was arrested Friday morning for driving under the influence.

St. Onge was charged Friday by a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper, according to Lexington County court records.

He was charged for having a blood-alcohol at least twice the state standard for impaired driving of 0.08 percent, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office said. He was booked into the Lexington County Detention Center at 9:50 a.m. and released Friday afternoon on his personal recognizance.

St. Onge was arrested shortly before 8 a.m. after being pulled over by a Lexington County Sheriff’s Department deputy while traveling eastbound on Interstate 20 near Bush River Road, said Sgt. Bob Beres with the S.C. Highway Patrol.

His 2008 Honda Accord was pulled over for erratic driving, Beres said. The Lexington deputy called for assistance from the S.C. Highway Patrol, which Beres said is not uncommon.

St. Onge failed a field sobriety-test administered by the trooper, who made the arrest.

St. Onge, 66, was transported to the detention center and submitted to a blood-alcohol test. He failed with a 0.20 percent blood-alcohol level, Beres said.

His only previous driving violation in Lexington and Richland counties was a 2013 speeding ticket, according to court records. He paid an $81.88 fine.

Efforts to reach St. Onge for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

St. Onge, a retired Army major general who was commandant of cadets at West Point, was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2011.

In his resignation letter from his $156,200-a-year post, released by the Governor’s Office, St. Onge said he was leaving “due to personal reasons.”

Haley appointed Christy Hall, paid $120,510 a year as the department’s deputy secretary of finance and procurement, as acting director of the Transportation Department.

“Gen. St. Onge is a good man with a lifetime of service to his country and, more recently, our state,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said. “That said, we have a no-tolerance policy for our state agency directors, and so Gen. St. Onge has resigned as secretary of Transportation. The governor thanks him for his work fixing the serious fiscal issues he inherited at the Department of Transportation – the state is better off because of his service.”

The state Transportation Department oversees 41,409 miles of state roads – the fourth-largest state road system in the nation.

When Haley appointed St. Onge to run the Transportation Department in 2011, it had $847 million in outstanding contracts but only $47 million in cash on hand to pay for that work. At the time, St. Onge said the department missed two $4 million debt payments because of “inattentiveness.”

Over the last two years, the department has righted itself financially and has not had issues paying its bills.

However, St. Onge often has said his job is to “manage the decline of the state highway system.”

According to the Department of Transportation, the state needs an additional $1.5 billion a year over the next 20 years just to bring the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges into good condition. A law passed last year could generate up to $1 billion over a decade for roadwork, through a combination of state and federal money plus borrowing.

As Transportation secretary, St. Onge had to strike a balance between asking legislators for more money to fix roads without suggesting where the money should come from, as Haley repeatedly has vowed to veto any bill that increases the state’s 16-cents-a-gallon gas tax, unchanged since 1987.

St. Onge spent 34 years in the Army before retiring as a major general. He was an infantry officer who spent time in Vietnam and Europe during the Cold War.

After he left West Point, St. Onge worked on the Army staff at the Pentagon and led the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan., according to a S.C. Department of Transportation biography. After retiring from the military, he worked for New York-based L-3 Communications, a defense contractor.

St. Onge and his wife have lived in Batesburg-Leesville since 2004, according to the state agency.

Staff writer Adam Beam and The Associated Press contributed.

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