A police report stated Jay Space -- who has been out of his office since April 4 -- is being treated for M. S.
Web posted Monday,
June 11, 2001
By Don Lowery
For the Savannah Morning News
Effingham County officials hope a news conference today will shed some light on the physical condition of Sheriff Jay Space, who reportedly took a two-month medical leave before returning to work about two weeks ago.
County officials say they have been concerned about the sheriff's health after hearing reports that he is being treated for multiple sclerosis. And they are puzzled about the sheriff's department's unusual silence about the matter.
"I wish I knew why they were so secretive about it but I don't," said County Commission Chairman Phillip King. "Maybe it was such a personal thing that he needed some time to deal with it."
Space and Maj. Rick Daily did not return repeated calls last week.
Daily informed County Administrator David Rutherford on April 23 that Space, who is in his late 30s, went on medical leave nearly three weeks earlier on April 4. But Rutherford said Daily, who was acting sheriff during Space's absence, provided that information "only when cornered" and did not provide any specifics.
The only other information available is a police report about Space being involved in a traffic stop in Garden City, followed by a statement from Space's campaign chairman published in mid-April saying the sheriff was being treated for multiple sclerosis.
Space's return to work on May 27 was reported in a news release issued a day earlier. That release also announced today's news conference, which begins at 10 a.m. at the sheriff's office on First Street Extension in Springfield.
Assistant District Attorney Tony May, who works extensively with deputies, said the sheriff's department has operated smoothly during Space's absence. May said Space probably was busy catching up on his work during his first two weeks back and may not have had the time to talk to county officials and reporters.
"When you are out of the office for a while, it doesn't take long for things to start to pile up," May said.
Commissioner Mack Thompson said he might attend the news conference today.
"I'm in the dark just like everybody else," Thompson said. "I would like to hear what he has to say. "He is an elected official and its not the commissioners' job to tell him how to run the sheriff's department . . . But it is our business, too, as county officials."
Rutherford, meanwhile, acknowledged the sheriff is a constitutionally elected officer, not a county employee, and is answerable only to voters. But Rutherford said the commission funds the sheriff's department, including the jail, and has legitimate concerns about the department.
One of those concerns involves legal liability issues that prompted Rutherford to obtain a police report about Space's traffic stop in Garden City.
According to the April 13 report, Garden City Officer Anthony Hazel stopped Space's silver Mercedes-Benz about 7:30 p.m. on Ga. 21 because it matched the description of a lookout issued for a possible drunk driver.
Hazel reported that the car weaved as he followed it a short distance and later noticed the driver, Space, "speaking slowly to me."
But an alcohol-detection device that tested Space's breath showed a reading of . 000 grams, completely absent of alcohol.
Days after the traffic stop, Garden City Police Chief Jeff Wood said that Space appeared to be physically impaired at the time of the stop but not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The sheriff was not allowed to drive from the scene and relatives gave him a ride to a Savannah hospital, the police report stated.
Thompson said Space was driving his personal car at the time of the traffic stop. But Rutherford said county taxpayers could be liable if the sheriff was involved in a traffic accident while driving a patrol car.
The commissioners have not discussed the situation but Rutherford has consulted with County Attorney Alex Zipperer about possible legal ramifications.
"As far as we know, we would be responsible -- not the county commission but the taxpayers," Rutherford said. "But the commission would have to deal with it."
King and Thompson said they spoke to Space briefly last weekend at the opening of a new business -- the first time they had talked to him since he took medical leave. They said he appeared to be in good spirits and spoke briefly about his medical situation without going into much detail.
King said he hopes Space will meet with county officials soon to discuss his medical condition.
"We hope now that he is back, things will settle down and he'll be able to talk with us," King said.