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Person of interest charged after car drives through security fences at South Carolina nuclear plant: Police

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(OCONEE COUNTY, S.C.) — A person of interest has been charged a day after a man drove a vehicle through security fences at a nuclear power station in South Carolina, authorities said.

The incident occurred at the Oconee Nuclear Station Thursday night, according to the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. A man operating a silver 2002 Toyota Camry approached the restricted area twice, though never accessed the plant, officials said.

The driver also attempted to hit a security truck with a guard in it while exiting the plant, police said.

Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw identified the person of interest as Doyle Wayne Whisenhunt, 66, of Lockesburg, Arkansas. He is wanted on drugs and weapons charges out of Arkansas, the sheriff said.

Whisenhunt was charged Friday evening with attempted murder, malicious injury to personal property, and unlawful entry into an enclosed place when he allegedly accelerated his vehicle towards a security officer at the nuclear plant.

Whisenhunt caused damage to the gates and fencing, outside of the secured area of the facility, by striking them with his vehicle, according to the Sheriff’s office. Whisenhunt allegedly also trespassed onto the property of the Nuclear Station without authorization, according to the charges filed.

Whisenhunt was also charged in a separate incident with one count of hit and run as Whisenhunt, while driving his vehicle, was allegedly involved in a motor vehicle accident and failed to remain on the scene. The accident occurred Thursday on Rochester Highway.

Whisenhunt was taken into custody at an abandoned home in neighboring Pickens County, South Carolina, according to the Sheriff’s office.

“The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation,” the Sheriff’s office said. “The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank our law enforcement partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for their assistance and help in our investigation.”

Amid the active search for Whisenhunt, Crenshaw said investigators were working to determine if he was the driver of the Toyota Camry.

It’s unclear why the driver went to the nuclear plant, the sheriff said.

“At this point in our investigation, we don’t have any evidence that this is any type of domestic terroristic event,” Crenshaw told reporters during a press briefing Friday afternoon.

The driver of the Toyota Camry first approached the nuclear station Thursday evening, then drove away when security asked him to leave, authorities said. About an hour later, he returned and drove through an administrative gate, the sheriff’s office said.

“After the vehicle struck the pop-up barricades that security at the plant activated, the driver backed the vehicle up and proceeded down a dirt road, where Duke Energy security blocked the vehicle in, according to Deputies,” a press release from the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office read. “The driver then drove through a fence after attempting to hit the security officers.”

The driver then reportedly drove out of the exit of the plant where he attempted to hit a security truck with a guard in it, police said.

The man drove into Pickens County and pulled onto residential property on Jones Mill Road where shots were subsequently fired, authorities said.

The homeowner told authorities he had fired warning shots, and the suspect drove away, Crenshaw said.

The Toyota Camry was located Friday afternoon in Pickens County, Crenshaw said. It was unoccupied, he said.

The nuclear station reported the security incident to authorities around 8:05 p.m. Thursday, the sheriff’s office said. No one was injured, Duke Energy said.

The nuclear station is “operating safely,” Duke Energy said.

“Duke Energy has comprehensive security plans and a well-trained security workforce in place,” the company said in a statement. “A vehicle entered an administrative gate, but was not able to access the plant due to our multiple layers of security.”

The FBI said it was aware of the incident, but deferred to the local sheriff’s office for any information related to the case.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the body that oversees nuclear plants in the United States, told ABC News the incident was “monitored closely throughout the night,” and said Duke Energy proactively informed the commission.

“The plant continues to operate safely, the public remains safe, and all U.S. nuclear power plants are operating at their normal security levels,” a spokesperson said.

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