SC teacher charged in deadly DUI crash resigns; district placed him on leave twice prior for alcohol-related incidents

Southeast Region

Michael Oerther (Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center)

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – The Horry County Schools (HCS) teacher recently charged with DUI in a deadly crash in Carolina Forest has resigned, according to documents obtained by News13.

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, News13 has obtained many documents from Michael Oerther’s employee file.

In a letter signed on November 4, Oerther resigned, effective November 5. Under the section of reasons given for his resignation, he checked “other” and did not provide any comments in the comments section. The letter was signed just two days after Oerther’s educator certificate was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Education.

News13 previously reported that Oerther was charged with felony DUI resulting in death after a crash on October 25 that killed 27-year-old Leza Watts on Carolina Forest Boulevard. Troopers said his Jeep hit the back of a Honda as the Honda was stopped at a traffic light. Watts was a rear-seat passenger in the Honda.

Oerther was previously arrested in South Carolina for DUI three times since being hired by HCS: 2005, 2009 and 2011.

From new documents, we’ve learned that the district was aware of at least one of those arrests, as well as an alcohol-related incident that happened during a middle school dance in 2002.

A letter dated October 2, 2009 says Oerther was placed on administrative leave effective Oct. 7, 2009 for a DUI arrest.

Another letter dated October 5, 2009 says Oerther would be allowed to return to work, effective Oct. 6, 2009. In this letter from then-HCS Chief Finance/Human Resources Officer Jeffrey Riddle, Oerther was warned about his conduct.

It says, in part, “Although you are being allowed to return to work effective October 6, 2009, it is imperative that you understand that unprofessional conduct of this nature will not be tolerated and could place your employment with the district in jeopardy.”

The letter went on to say that Oerther must contact the district’s coordinator for diversity and professional development to discuss “professional responsibilities of an educator”.

A letter dated May 20, 2002 says Oerther would be placed on administrative leave on May 23, 2002 after he was believed to be under the influence of alcohol at a Carolina Forest Middle School 8th grade dance, which happened on May 10, 2002.

Here is a portion of the letter:

“That evening, it appeared to several of our staff members that you were behaving as if you were under the influence of alcohol. In fact, you were asked by a peer to leave the dance, which you did about an hour into the event. Additionally, concerns about your behavior reached the district office administration. When you and I discussed the situation, you admitted to having had ‘a couple of beers’ before arriving at the dance, though you denied being inebriated. You also said that you did not bring or consume any alcohol beverages on the Carolina Forest Middle School campus.”

Wendell Shealy, Carolina Forest Middle School principal, 2002

The letter goes on to say, in part, “Smelling of alcohol or similar conduct in the future will result in additional disciplinary action, up to and including a recommendation for the termination of your employment with the district.”

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