Crime & Courts

Former coroner pleads guilty to open container

LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Former York County Coroner Doug McKown pleaded guilty in a North Carolina court today to having an open container of alcohol in his county-owned vehicle when he was stopped in July by Lincoln County authorities.

A second charge of drinking while driving, a more serious offense, was dismissed.

A judge will now decide on a punishment.

McKown has admitted that his friend, Eric Howell of Gastonia, N.C., was drinking beer in McKown's county-owned SUV when a Lincoln County sheriff's deputy stopped them July 17.

That deputy smelled alcohol on McKown's breath and asked him if he'd been drinking, according to a sheriff's office report. McKown told him he'd had two beers and performed a sobriety test, but it was inconclusive.

McKown refused to take a breath test, the report stated.

Authorities found three open bottles of Coors Light beer in the vehicle. Both McKown and Howell were arrested and taken to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

McKown maintains he went to North Carolina that night to pick up Howell, who was drunk and needed a ride home. He claims he didn't know Howell was drinking when authorities stopped them.

But McKown has acknowledged an open beer was in his vehicle, and that was enough to prompt him to leave his elected post.

He'd actually just returned to that office. After a nearly two-year suspension, McKown came back to work in June after he was acquitted of felony cocaine charges.

But he was sentenced to a year's probation after being convicted of unlawfully possessing a prescription drug, a misdemeanor charge tied to a half-pill of Viagra police found in his home.

-- The (Rock Hill) Herald