Crashed drone carried contraband aimed at South Carolina prison

CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - A drone being flown in a novel attempt to smuggle phones, marijuana and tobacco into a South Carolina maximum security prison crashed outside its walls, authorities said on Wednesday.

The contraband smuggling attempt has been under investigation since the wreckage was discovered in April outside the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stephanie Givens.

Officials believe it was the first time an unmanned aircraft had been used in an effort to breach prison walls in the state, Givens said. Most cellphones are thrown over walls.

“The technology is getting better, and we have to figure out different ways to fight back,” she said.

Illegal cellphones, an issue in prisons nationwide, have drawn particular alarm in South Carolina. In 2010, a cell phone smuggled into the same prison was used to order a hit on a prison officer, who was shot six times at his home but survived.

Authorities have arrested one man in the drone incident and are seeking another suspect. Brenton Lee Doyle, 28, appeared in court on Wednesday for a hearing. He faces charges of attempting to introduce contraband into a prison and possession of the drug flunitrazopam, a muscle relaxant known as “roofies.”

His case was continued until September.

Doyle has said he has never seen a drone and that police said nothing about a drone at the time of his arrest, his attorney Wayne Floyd said.

Authorities said the search for the second suspect continues.

(This version of the story corrects the dateline to South Carolina, from Florida.)

Editing by Letitia Stein, Eric Walsh and Bill Trott