Turbulent year was Nash's toughest yet as sheriff

Editor's note: The series "2007 and beyond" examines the people and issues that dominated the news last year and highlights issues that will continue to make news. An article will appeared each Wednesday for the month of January.

Love him or hate him, Ray Nash is still the Dorchester County sheriff.

Although it won't be long before he's forced to hand over the reigns of Dorchester County law enforcement to someone else. Nash announced yesterday he's not seeking a fourth term and will retire effective Jan. 5, 2009 at the end of this term.

The decision not to seek reelection is a sharp reversal of plans outlined by Nash in an interview with The Journal Scene a few short weeks ago. Then, he was preparing for a race, but now Nash doesn't know what the future beyond 2008 will hold.

"I've got a year to see where God wants me to be," he says.

The polarizing figure stayed at the forefront of the news in 2007 as he had to whether what he describes as the "hardest professional year" of his life.

Nash said he'd never experienced anything like it -- not in his 10 previous years as sheriff or years as Summerville's police chief.

The turbulent year saw Nash have the first deputy to die on duty in his 30-year law enforcement career and, then, the death of his right hand man.

"It was definitely a year I don't want to repeat. I got tired of going to funerals," Nash says.

In April, Cpl. Mike Deese was killed while driving along Interstate-26 when a truck barreled through the median and head-on in front of the deputy's car.

"It could've been anyone," says Nash of the circumstances surrounding Deese's death.

Bill French, Nash's chief deputy, passed away in August after battling cancer.

"I still miss him a lot," Nash says.

He cites the loss of French as one of the contributing factors to his decision not to continue as sheriff.

"The hardest thing in the world is to stand up in front of [deputies] at funerals and speak," he says.

But, the deaths weren't the only thing that gave Nash headlines in 2007. The County Council-ordered forensic audit of his department revealed a fraud scheme allegedly committed by his former jail chief Arnold Pastor. County Council has extended the audit and results are expected early this year, but that will only be the tip of the iceberg as far as discussion of the audit.

Pastor, still yet to be indicted, but if and when one comes down, Nash will be back in the forefront.

One thing Nash won't have to be at the forefront of is a campaign battle. He was prepared to be locked in a reelection battle against L.C. Knight in the primary, but now he says he can concentrate on law enforcement over his last year in office.

During the interview earlier this month, Nash was confident he would still be sheriff in 2009, but Tuesday's announcement that he will not run seems to indicate a change of heart.

Nash says the decision not to run has a lot to do with Folly Beach Public Safety Director Terry Boatwright entering the race, whom he says would make a good sheriff.

"I know some people strongly support me and others strongly oppose me. But, when people come up to you and say they support you and you don't even know them, it means a lot. It brightens your day," he says.

This year still may keep Nash at the forefront. He still has a budget for half of a year he has to protect and realizes there will be a flurry of questions from County Council over the fraud investigation.

The fraud discovered in the Dorchester County sheriff's office shows fiscal mismanagement, says Councilman Chris Murphy, who talked to The Journal Scene before Nash's decision to leave the race.

"I'm going to look very carefully at his budget more than I have in the past. It's apparent this department is not being fiscally managed properly," said Murphy, who made the original motion authorizing the audit.

Nash believes councilmen and he can rise above politics when it comes to tax dollars.

"We're all professionals and we don't need to let politics get in the way of law enforcement funding."

"It shouldn't have any impact on the process. The audit showed no budgeted mismanagement. I have to make County Council understand and convince them where understaffed and too keep up with exponential growth or we will see a rise in violent crime."

The budget process starts next month as County Council considers agency's requests. A final budget is typically not finalized until June, right before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Contact Ryan Castle at 873-9424 ext. 216 or rcastle@journalscene.com.