BRECKINRIDGE COUNTY, Ky. — Sixty miles south of Louisville, a Kentucky sheriff is leading his county while facing criminal charges. It’s not his first arrest.
“It’s a bad situation for our whole county,” Breckinridge County Judge Executive Maurice Lucas said.
Breckinridge County Sheriff Todd Pate was arrested in 2015 and charged with driving under the influence.
A Kentucky State Police officer noted in the arrest report, the sheriff had made "threats to law enforcement," was "armed," "driving recklessly" and had an "active warrant" out for his arrest. That officer reported he saw the sheriff drinking beer in his vehicle, and noted on the arrest slip, the sheriff had an open beer in the center console.
The sheriff pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and twelve months on probation.
Four years later, he is facing charges again.
"If this doesn't stop, somebody will die," Breckinridge County constituent Stephen Schick said.
On March 8, 2019, a crash on Highway 259 sent one woman to the hospital.
"Kentucky State Police Post 4 received a call about an accident near the 9400 block of 259 in Breckinridge County,” KSP Trooper Peter Binkley said.
The crash happened on a windy, rural road near Rough River Lake.
EMS first responders, Kentucky State Police, and McDaniels Fire Department all responded to the scene.
One driver involved in the crash was sent to the hospital. According to dispatch records, EMS checked out another patient who said they were “run off the road” by the sheriff, before the crash.
"Sheriff Pate was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and lodged in the Hardin County Detention Center,” Binkley said.
According to the arrest slip, officers reported a witness saw the sheriff hiding beer bottles at the scene. He was charged with ‘tampering with physical evidence.'
According to the arrest slip, his blood alcohol content was .159, which is almost double the legal limit. He was charged with ‘operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol’.
The crash sent one woman to the hospital and put three others in serious danger. He was charged with four counts of ‘wanton endangerment.'
The grand jury indicted Pate on those six charges on April 17, 2019. His next circuit court date is set for June 6, 2019. His case has been assigned to a special prosecutor Blake Chambers, of the 38th judicial circuit.
But there was another encounter with law enforcement before the crash that got our attention.
The FOCUS team learned from dispatch records that less than an hour before the crash, the sheriff talked with an Irvington Police officer in the parking lot of Auggie Doggie's gas station.
Irvington Police Chief Brandon Brinkley told the FOCUS team his officer had overheard a call on his radio, reporting a reckless driver in the area.
According to dispatch records, that 911 caller reported the driver was “asleep at the wheel," “all over the road," “drove across three lanes of traffic” and “hit a curb” while turning into Auggie Doggie’s.
The officer saw a vehicle matching the description and went out to the parking lot to talk with the driver, according to Brinkley.
Brinkley said after a five-minute conversation at the gas station, with the sheriff, his officer saw no signs of impairment and let Sheriff Pate drive away. Forty minutes later the sheriff crashed.
At that scene, a Kentucky State Police trooper noted the sheriff had "blood shot eyes," "a strong odor of alcohol," "slurred speech" and was "unsteady on his feet."
The FOCUS team went to the UofL Alcohol Center to find an expert in alcohol metabolism and signs of impairment.
FOCUS Investigator Shay McAlister asked, "Is it possible that he would go from no signs of impairment to 40 minutes later a blood alcohol content of .159?"
"So, signs of impairment aren't always correlated with blood alcohol content," Dr. Craig McClain said, "That's a pretty steep curve, but yes, it's possible."
Dr. McClain is the Director of the UofL Alcohol Research Center. He studies alcohol metabolism in the human body.
McClain said it’s possible a man the sheriff's size could have appeared sober during that initial traffic stop. But, based off of the BAC, which was almost double the legal limit, it is not likely.
"In this specific case you have an incredibly high blood alcohol level at the scene so that's not rocket science,” McClain said.
The Irvington Police Chief declined an on-camera interview with the FOCUS team.
He said he stands by his officer's actions and "unfortunately, sometimes you miss things."
Unfortunately, this error helped put a woman in the hospital. The FOCUS team tried to find her, to find out how the crash has affected her life but we never able to make contact.
We did hear from others.
The FOCUS team received emails, calls, and messages urging us to keep digging into Breckinridge County Government.
On April 8, 2019, the Fiscal Court met inside the Breckinridge County Courthouse.
A community member brought a petition, calling for the sheriff to resign.
"We don't want any harm for Mister Pate. We think he's a decent human being but we don't think that he needs to be enforcing the law in Breckinridge County anymore," Schick said.
More than 1,300 people have signed the petition.
Niles Heggie signed the petition. He said, "He's here to protect us. Driving drunk is not protecting us."
The Breckinridge County Judge Executive saw the petition circulating inside Fiscal Court.
"We take this seriously. Very seriously,” Lucas said.
Judge Lucas is the chief executive in Breckenridge County. As the chief executive, he has the most power in county government.
Lucas said, "There are things that have happened over the past few years and I think our sheriff, I know he regrets what happened and so forth."
But, he said, his hands are tied.
“We, as a fiscal court, me as a judge executive, don't have the power nor the authority to remove him or really even to enter into it,” Lucas explained.
Because the sheriff is an elected position, constituents can take action, but they can’t impeach him without help.
Breckinridge constituents can petition to their local lawmakers to take on the task in the legislature.
The FOCUS team reached out to both lawmakers serving Breckinridge County. Senator Stephen Meredith called us right away but said he couldn’t act on this subject because impeachment has to start in the house.
Representative Dean Schamore wouldn't take our calls. He didn't answer multiple emails.
Weeks after first reaching out a legal aid sent a text on his behalf saying:
“I am only aware of this through the media, and will therefore reserve comment on his case until it has been considered by the courts. I do want to clarify that, based on research by legislative staff, the state has several avenues regarding the removal of locally elected officials, but final decisions in each ultimately require action by the governor, a majority vote in the General Assembly or by Kentucky Supreme Court. The leaders of these three branches are the ones who will have to decide what, if any, action to take in the months ahead.”
According to Kentucky Constitution, Section 66, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment.
So, for now, the sitting sheriff can continue to serve in his seat. He has the power to make arrests or issue a DUI. He has the option to resign or keep his seat as the sheriff of Breckinridge County until 2022.