Wake County

July 18, 2014

Seized Corvette to remain in possession of Wake Sheriff’s Office

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office will use a 2007 Corvette seized from a drug dealer for public relations instead of following through on a plan to sell it to benefit local schools, Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office will use a 2007 Corvette seized from a drug dealer for public relations instead of following through on a plan to sell it to benefit local schools, Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

Five years ago, Harrison and Deputy County Manager Joe Durham said the 2007 Corvette Z06 would be used temporarily as a department vehicle after it was taken in a drug raid. But when the car became a burden to the county, they said, it would be auctioned, and the proceeds would go to the Wake school system.

Harrison said this week, though, that when the car comes off the road, the department will use it for public relations.

“We’ll probably use it as a car for displays,” said Harrison, sheriff since 2002. “We get calls wanting cars to come to schools, and it’d be a good thing to say, ‘If you sell drugs and get caught, this is what will happen.’ ”

It is unclear when the black sports car will be retired, but Harrison said that’s not likely to be anytime soon.

The special-model Chevy has lost about two-thirds of its potential sales value, but its power is indisputable, with a V8 racing engine turning out 505 horsepower.

Durham said he was not aware of the change in the car’s fate, but he said the sheriff is within the law to do what he wants with the vehicle.

The North Carolina Constitution mandates that all penalties, forfeitures and fines “be faithfully appropriated by the General Assembly, on a per pupil basis, to the counties, to be used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”

But a state law says a law enforcement agency holding a seized vehicle “can retain the property for official use.”

Lawrence Creech Jr. was the original owner. The car came into the sheriff’s custody after Creech was arrested for selling cocaine and maintaining a vehicle for keeping controlled substances. He was convicted of felony schedule II possession and served about three months in prison in 2009. The Controlled Substances Act makes property used in violation of certain state drug laws subject to forfeiture.

When seized, the car had 10,278 miles on it and was worth $56,990. It now has 152,000 miles on it and is valued between $16,701 and $19,335, according to Kelley Blue Book.

The Corvette is used by the department’s Impact team, which is called in to saturate areas with high-crime rates or communities experiencing specific problems, such as a number of break-ins, Capt. Jimmy Stevens said. He said the car is also used to enforce traffic laws and assist the department’s Drug and Vice team. The car’s windows are tinted.

Sgt. W. Harding was assigned to the unmarked car and received training to drive it, Harrison said. He said the officer assigned to the car drives it as he would a police car, which includes taking it home.

But Harding said Wednesday that he was taken off the car’s assignment last week.

Nobody is assigned to the car now, Harrison said Thursday. He declined to say why.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, to be honest,” Harrison said. “I’ve still got it in my possession. We’re still using it and still plan to use it.”

A teaching tool?

Jennifer Cates, who has taught Latin at Broughton High School for 27 years, does not think using the Corvette as part of an anti-crime campaign for students will be effective.

“It seems like the message would be that this is what a drug dealer had, and boys, especially, wouldn’t hear the part about it being taken away.”

The car can reach speeds of up to 198 miles per hour and was called the “fastest police car in America” by Top Gear magazine.

The sheriff’s 2009 announcement about using the car drew criticism from educators and Corvette enthusiasts concerned about the county shouldering high maintenance costs and about safety. The department spent an estimated $9,000 that year to retrofit the car with blue lights, a siren, a radar gun, a police radio and a laptop computer.

Since then, the car had problems with the clutch and engine but was under warranty with General Motors when these repairs were made, Harrison said. All warranties on the car are now expired, said David Goodwin, director of the county’s General Services Administration, which manages the department’s fleet.

Harrison said the Corvette has been used to make 1,400 traffic stops resulting in more than 1,000 citations. It is responsible for taking more than $250,000 worth of drugs off the streets, he said.

“It’s done more good for the county than it would have with money for the schools, I can tell you that,” Harrison said.

The average yearly cost to the county of using the car is $12,130, Goodwin said. This includes maintenance, repair, fuel and tires.

Harrison said the department keeps up with annual vehicle costs by using a dollar-to-mile ratio.

He said cars in the patrol division drive an average of 25,000 to 30,000 miles annually, but he didn’t know the figure for cars in other divisions, including the Impact team. Based on the department’s 2010 annual report, the overall department average was 14,413 miles that year. That’s about half the Corvette’s annual average of 28,344 miles. Harrison said some cars are driven more and some less.

Varying costs

In 2013, the Corvette cost 44 cents per mile, and so far this year, it has cost 67 cents per mile, Harrison said. This figure also includes maintenance, repair, fuel and tires.

The standard cars used by the department vary in cost. The Chevrolet Impala costs $1.42 per mile; the Ford Crown Victoria costs $1.66 per mile; the Ford Interceptor, $2 per mile; the Dodge Charger, $2.90 per mile; and the Chevrolet Caprice, $4 per mile. The metric does not include the cars’ original purchase price.

The prevalent use of the car likely accounts for the Corvette’s lower cost-to-mile ratio, but Harrison said he didn’t know the reason for the difference.

Fuel is probably not the biggest expense. Jennings “Tiger” Strickland, a Raleigh automotive mechanic who specializes in GM cars, said he was unfamiliar with the dollar-per-mile metric but said the Corvette can get up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway. Members of a Corvette forum reported seeing the black sports car pulling cars over on Interstate 540 and U.S. 64.

Other seized vehicles have joined the department’s fleet, and Goodwin said they are sometimes used in undercover operations. Harrison decides whether to use a vehicle for his department or to sell it to benefit the school system. But he said he consults with the county manager in making these decisions.

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