Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – Just before 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, Lexington County’s Sheriff’s Department received a call about a vehicle that was reportedly disabled off Pine Plain Road. Who could ever imagine that this simple call would be the “on switch” for one of the highest profile and most dramatic days of law enforcement work in the recent history of our county and Midlands? In the end, 29-year-old Robert B. Shaw, whose addresses of record were listed as West Columbia would be dead from gunshot wounds fired by deputies after a tense stand-off that did something that even major winter storms can’t do for long. It closed a major interstate highway and several other roadsides, disrupted commerce back and forth to a key east coast port, drew numerous law enforcement agencies together in a stunning display of cooperation, and it impacted the lives of countless deputies, state troopers, coroner’s office, EMS and other public servants who had no idea that their day would go from ho-hum to horrific before the sun set. It also took the life of Shaw who had a criminal record, was wanted on some serious charges after missing an appearance in a General Sessions Court case, but was also someone’s son, friend, step-dad, and by all outward appearances, a very troubled man.
When it all started down between the area east of Swansea and Gaston, deputies simply knew that a man ran from them first on foot and later in a pickup truck after the call about the broken-down vehicle. Eventually, deputies would pursue Shaw on a winding route that ended up running through several jurisdictions before Cayce officers finally were able to deploy stop-sticks. Shaw was headed east on I-26 near the Old Dunbar Road overpass when the truck’s flattened tires gave up and caused him to lose control and spin into the grass, bringing the chase to an end. At this point, another in a long stream of “what ifs?” set all of the remaining catastrophic events in motion; Shaw just wouldn’t give up and go to jail; what if he had? Instead of just surrendering, he pointed a gun at himself and wouldn’t let the deputies approach and take him into custody.
Certainly, beside all of the officers, EMS crew members, all those people sitting in what was estimated to be 10 or more miles of traffic, the young news crews rushing to the scene, everyone knew something big was happening, something different than the everyday routine they normally dealt with. How long was it before Shaw’s family knew? Certainly, that’s recorded somewhere in an official report. At what point did Robert Shaw know that Wednesday was the last day of his life? That probably went to the morgue with him when it was all finally done yesterday afternoon.
At the final press conference before things were handed over to SLED for investigation after Shaw had been shot, Sheriff Jay Koon was quoted as saying, "During the course of identifying him, we saw that he had a general sessions bench warrant from a West Columbia case back in the fall.” He also said those warrants were for unlawful carry, failure to stop for a blue light, convicted felon with possession of a firearm, possession of meth, and a habitual offender. Certainly, the pedigree of a man who didn’t just begin to struggle yesterday, but many years prior to that. Koon said that even though talks with his staff’s high-trained negotiators had gone well for several hours, they eventually had to make a decision. That’s when, according to Sheriff Koon, his SWAT Team began to make some tactical maneuvers in an effort to take Robert Shaw into custody.
What happened next is surely well documented. In this day of modern body cameras, recording devices everywhere, and with an entire tactical team approaching, it has to be. Koon says that Shaw made a sudden movement and that caused deputies to open fire. Immediately, they rushed in and began to render aid. Shaw was transferred to an ambulance, but news footage showed no sense of urgency when that truck pulled away. Certainly, that doesn’t ever suggest they aren’t doing everything they can in the back of that rolling emergency room to save every patient, but well-trained crews like Lexington Counties know when there’s just not much hope. Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher would later say that Shaw died at the hospital.
As is standard operating procedure, the SC State Law Enforcement Division was handed the investigation by the sheriff’s department. Sheriff Koon has placed four deputies on paid administrative leave while that investigation proceeds.
Certainly, this was one of the most tragic days for our county in recent history. Sure, we’ve had tornadoes, train crashes, murders, and fires, but this somehow seems to top all that. If we just thought of Shaw, a dead criminal who did something dumb, we could minimize it in our heads. The truth is, some of our deputies had to toss and turn last night thinking, “should I have waited a split-second more?” If they hesitated, another family might be planning their funeral, not Shaw’s. No one but Robert Shaw will ever know exactly why right there at the end, but I would bet that he too didn’t fully realize, even if he knew in his heart he was going to die, what an impact he would have on the lives of so many yesterday.