He shoplifted from a Kohl's, crashed his car into a light pole and led police on a foot chase through the Lexington County woods, police say.
But when 23-year-old Robert Benton hustled through the Hope Ferry Plantation neighborhood, seeking a place to hide, he made the mistake of picking the home of a former Marine and state trooper.
Chris Wooten, a personal trainer set to be elected to the S.C. House next month, was eating dinner in his Lexington home Monday evening when a friend texted him a warning that a police chase was going on nearby.
As Wooten placed his phone down, his 1-year-old Brittany spaniel hopped up and ran to the door. Wooten followed, stepping outside as a man bounded toward the front steps.
Clad in blue jeans and a polo, the man claimed to be looking for a friend's home, Wooten told The State on Wednesday. But he took off running when Wooten told him to wait until the police arrived.
Wooten — also a River Bluff High School football coach, in charge of defensive backs — sprang after Benton barefooted, tackling him in his front yard.
“It was a pretty solid open-field tackle,” the Lexington Republican said with a laugh. “It’s what I’ve been teaching my kids for 12 years.”
Wooten said he used pressure points and a headlock to keep Benton down for the next 12 minutes until Lexington police arrived. Benton has been charged with shoplifting and hit and run, and is being held in the Lexington County Detention Center.
”When he realized that I wasn’t playing, when he realized he was not going anywhere, he just kind of laid there,” said Wooten, who won the GOP primary in March for the right to succeed former state Rep. Rick Quinn.
Quinn resigned in December and entered a guilty plea to misconduct in office as part of the ongoing State House corruption probe. Wooten faces no Democratic opposition in the May 1 special general election and could be sworn in before the General Assembly adjourns for the year later that month.
Two days after the incident, Wooten says his arms still are sore from holding the headlock so long. He said the episode shows how well Lexington neighbors and police can work together.
"It really shows how close our community is and how well we work together to show the people that are not doing the right thing that we will not stand by and let them mess up our great town."