Judge rules warrants establish probable cause for murder charge in shooting death of Florence airport officer

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FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) – A judge on Tuesday ruled warrants established probable cause for murder and other charges against a suspect in the death of a Florence airport officer.

James Edward Bell, 37, asked for the preliminary hearing after deputies accused him of shooting and killing Florence Regional Airport Officer Jackson Winkeler during a traffic stop on airport property in January.

Winkeler’s body was found by deputies on the ground beside his vehicle and his service weapon was missing, according to SLED warrants. Officers found an empty 9mm handgun that did not belong to Winkeler and over 30 spent shell casings at the scene.

When deputies found Bell, who was identified by the vehicle he was driving, and searched him, they found Winkeler’s service weapon and a magazine consistent with the handgun left near Winkeler’s body.

Bell is charged with murder, discharging a firearm into a vehicle, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. He is being held at the Florence County Detention Center.

Officer Winkeler was also a firefighter in Latta. “He put everybody before he put his own self,” said Latta fire Lieutenant John Bethea, who knew Winkeler almost his whole life. 

Winkeler was set to start training to be a police officer the week after he was shot.

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