012518 Highway 17: Ex-fire chief faces charges in fatal accident
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Highway 17: Ex-fire chief faces charges in fatal accident

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A former Midway Fire and Rescue chief faces charges in a traffic accident on Highway 17 that resulted in the death of a New Jersey man Sunday night.

James R. Payne Jr. was driving south on Highway 17 around 5:50 p.m. when his Jeep turned left in front of a northbound Nissan SUV near the Village Shops, according to the state Highway Patrol.

Michael Walter, 58, of Cape May, N.J., was the front seat passenger in the Nissan. He was not wearing a seat belt, according to the Highway Patrol. He died at the Waccamaw Community Hospital of multiple trauma, according to the Georgetown County coroner’s office.

It was the first traffic fatality in the area since the completion of a raised median in the Pawleys Island business district in 2015. The project eliminated the two-way left-turn lane with median cuts. There is one on the north side of the Village Shops.

Payne was using the cut-through, according to the Highway Patrol report.

No charges had been filed as of Wednesday. “The injuries were serious. We’re still talking to everybody,” Cpl. Sonny Collins said. Payne, who was wearing a seat belt, was taken to Georgetown Memorial Hospital. “There’s no question he was at fault. They just haven’t decided on the charges yet,” Collins said.

Two other occupants of the Nissan were taken to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, according to Midway Fire and Rescue. They were also wearing seatbelts.

Payne, 51, joined Midway in 2015 after a 28-year career with the Baltimore Fire Department. He was a division chief for special operations and training until last month when he was arrested on charges of burglary and assault after a Pawleys Island area woman said he kicked in the door to her house and pushed her when she told him to leave, according to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office.

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