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The motorcade of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney exceeded speed limits and went through stop lights Friday as local law officers escorted him, blue lights flashing, to campaign events in two South Carolina counties.
Traffic pulled over for Romney’s caravan as Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth, a Romney supporter, led the candidate’s motor home and staff cars with his blue lights running from the Aiken County line through Saluda County to the Newberry city limits, according to an Associated Press reporter following the candidate.
The caravan traveled between 10 mph and 15 mph over posted speed limits. The posted speed limits were 45 mph and 55 mph.
“We wanted to make sure he stays safe and gets to where he’s going,” Booth told The Associated Press.
Asked whether it’s proper to use flashing police lights to escort a candidate, he said, “I’m not getting into this with you, sir. I have no comment.” Booth, a former supporter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, switched to Romney in April.
Later in the day, Romney said his campaign requests that police turn their lights on only if there’s a public safety concern.
Streets in the town of Saluda were blocked off while the motorcade passed through. The escort disregarded traffic lights on those streets and at least one traffic light in the county.
A Newberry County deputy joined the caravan at the county line and used flashing lights for several miles until reaching city limits, the reporter observed.
Newberry County Sheriff’s Maj. Todd Johnson said that deputy’s escort was unplanned. Romney’s motorcade became lost and requested help finding the campaign stop, he said.
“They didn’t know exactly where they were going,” Johnson said. “All he did was guide him to the event. He never activated blue lights other than to indicate that he would be the one leading.”
Romney had no police escort after leaving Newberry.
An off-duty Aiken County deputy had escorted Romney from his hotel room Friday morning to his event in Aiken, then to the county line, where Booth and another marked Saluda County sheriff’s car took over.
Aiken County Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Michael Frank insisted his department’s deputy did not exceed the speed limit or go through red lights.
“We observe all posted speed limits and traffic signals unless it’s an emergency,” Frank said.
Romney’s campaign paid an off-duty Aiken County deputy $90 for the escort, he said.
That deputy used blue lights only while parked outside the event, not during the escort, Frank said.
He said Romney’s campaign is the first to hire the department for an escort this presidential season, but the department routinely makes off-duty deputies available for event security.
Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox in Columbia contributed to this report.