Cocaine found at fire department
By By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
The Washington Police Department is investigating the discovery of cocaine residue during a routine clean-up operation at the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Department.
The residue was found at about 10 a.m. Friday.
A container found in the sleeping quarters of the department's headquarters at the intersection of Fifth and North Market streets tested positive for cocaine residue, city officials said Friday evening. City Manager R.L. Willoughby noted that many people have access to the sleeping quarters.
For now, Willoughby said, investigators don't know to whom the container belonged.
"I think that will shake out in the investigation," Willoughby said during an interview just before 6 p.m. Friday.
A city-issued news release said a "full investigation" began after city employees "found evidence of possible drug use."
Police Capt. Sandy Blizzard, coordinating his department's investigation, said there were no suspects as of Friday evening. He also emphasized that many people have access to the fire station's living quarters, which are on the second floor of the station.
Willoughby said Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS officials notified the police department about the discovery. After arriving at the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS building to investigate the discovery, police confirmed the residue in the container was cocaine.
"That's when I was called in," said Willoughby, who added he was informed about the discovery by Fire-Rescue-EMS Chief Nelson Pyle.
Results of the initial police investigation will be turned over to Seth Edwards, district attorney for the Second Judicial District, which includes Beaufort County, Willoughby said. Edwards had not been contacted by Washington police as of Friday evening, he added. Willoughby said the city will let Edwards decide what to do with investigators' findings.
The discovery of cocaine residue comes less than a week after the State Bureau of Investigation began an investigation into allegations of financial misconduct at the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Department.
Police officers were continuing their search of the entire Fire-Rescue-EMS building, its grounds and equipment Friday night. Blizzard, supervising a search at the fire station Friday night, said his department made arrangements to bring in a police dog to assist with that search.
"The employees (at the fire station) have been cooperative – 100 percent," Blizzard said.
Pyle said his department will continue that cooperation.
"We are leaving no stone unturned," Willoughby explained.
Pyle, during an interview at the fire station Friday night, said he supports the investigation, hoping its results will help restore confidence in his department and its employees.
"They have worked hard to develop and maintain integrity. … Their (cooperative) effort today is an effort to maintain that integrity," Pyle said.
The fire chief called Friday's discovery a "significant, serious" incident.
"To say it's upsetting is to say the Titanic sprang a leak," Pyle said.
The discovery Friday and the ongoing SBI investigation have Willoughby worried about the Fire-Rescue-EMS Department.
"The big picture concerns me a great deal," Willoughby said.
The city continues its "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to drug use by its employees, Willoughby said.
City Attorney Fred Holscher, who reviewed a press release about the incident before it was released Friday evening, agreed.
"It's a real public-safety issue," he said, indicating that drug use by public-safety personnel could lead to deadly consequences.
The city has a policy of requiring its employees to submit to drug testing when there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use, Willoughby said. City policy also allows the city to test new employees, employees being promoted, employees seeking commercial driver's licenses and the city manager for drug use.