Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jul 2009
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2009 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Michael Biesecker
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


RALEIGH - Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says the Corvette Z06
being used by his deputies to pull over cars on Interstate 40 is a
potent tool for fighting illegal drugs.

"We saw a need for it," Harrison said Wednesday about the
special-model Chevy that goes 198 mph and was seized from a cocaine
dealer. "We're going to get a lot of drugs off the road."

A Wake judge ordered Lawrence Creech Jr., the Corvette's previous
owner, to forfeit it to the Wake Sheriff's Office following his arrest
in December for cocaine possession and maintaining a vehicle for the
keeping of controlled substances, according to court records. The 2007
car has a current retail value of $56,990, according to Kelley Blue

The North Carolina Constitution says all forfeitures and all fines for
breaking the state's criminal laws "shall be faithfully appropriated
and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools."

But there is also a state law that says a law enforcement agency in
custody of a seized car can "retain the property for official use."

Harrison said Wednesday that he intends to keep the car as long as it
proves useful. When his department is done with it, the car will be
sold, and the proceeds will go to the Wake County Public School System.

North Carolina's largest school district could use the money. Facing a
sour economy and the prospects of deep state budget cuts, school
officials have instituted a hiring freeze, announced plans to cut
about 1,500 employees and are bracing for additional cuts in the
coming months.

But Wake County Attorney Scott Warren and Michael Crowell, a lawyer at
the UNC School of Government, both agreed that Harrison is within the
law to keep the car. There is nothing that would require the sheriff
to sell the seized car within a specific period, they said.

"We would certainly appreciate any extra dollars we could have this
year to hire more teachers or keep more teachers," said Anne McLaurin,
a member of the Wake school board. "But I don't think there's anything
we can do about the sheriff's decision, except encourage him to be

Wake teacher Maryanne Faneck is more blunt. In the current economic
environment, with teachers being laid off and education programs being
cut, Faneck said using such an extravagant car to patrol the county's
highways reflects poorly on the sheriff's department. It should be
sold and the proceeds given to the schools, she said.

"I think they just want to drive a cool car," said Faneck, who teaches
physical education at Swift Creek Elementary School in Raleigh.

Though the county got the Corvette free, that doesn't mean it comes
without costs. Harrison estimated his department spent about $9,000 to
outfit the car with blue lights, siren, radar gun, radio, laptop
computer and other standard gear.

Records from the county garage show the Z06, which had 10,278 miles on
its odometer when it was titled to the county on April 2, required a
new set of special high-speed tires earlier this month. The four
Goodyear F1 tires cost the county $1,571.98, according to the written
repair order.

The car sat largely unused until Friday, the sheriff said, when it was
assigned to a deputy with the department's Drug Impact Team.

On his first night on patrol in the Corvette, the deputy nabbed a car
carrying drugs. Harrison said the car's stealthy, low-slung profile
makes it difficult for drug runners or speeders to spot.

"Certainly, most people don't see a Corvette as a law enforcement
vehicle," he said.

And the Z06's 505-horsepower, V8 engine also ensures it can catch just
about anything on the road.

"It drives great," said the sheriff, who took the car home one night
last week. He said it was the only time he has driven the Corvette,
which rides a little rougher than the department-issue Dodge Charger
he uses as his primary vehicle.

In response to a public records request, Harrison said he had no log
or other document showing who has driven the car or when. As it sat in
the parking garage under the county jail Wednesday, the Corvette had
just 11,792 miles on the odometer -- 1,514 more than it had when the
department took possession.

Faneck predicted the car will cost taxpayers more than it's

"Who's going to pay for the maintenance on that high-dollar car?" she
asked. "I mean $1,500 for a set of tires every 10,000 miles? As a
teacher who was furloughed, I hope I'm not paying for that.
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