Vehicle seizures benefit school

Published 8:26 pm Saturday, July 13, 2013

James Barrow

James Barrow


A DWI conviction leads to a revoked license. A DWI charge against someone driving with a revoked license because of prior DWI causes law enforcement to not just make another arrest but to immediately seize the vehicle the person was driving.

It happened July 7, when Sgt. Michael Sheppard of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office patrol division tracked a speeding car from West Fifth Street in Washington over the Pitt County line, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office. Along the way, the driver refused to stop, even after Sheppard turned on emergency lights and siren, said the release. Instead, the driver, James Henry Barrow, 59, of Antler Drive, had his hand out the car window, waving at the deputy, indicating the deputy should follow, according to Maj. Kenneth Watson, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

“I think we could theorize that he didn’t want to get his car towed,” Watson said.

Barrow’s car, however, was towed: first to a local facility, then to a state lot where vehicles are held until a judge determines whether it will be given back to its owner or forfeited to a surprising local entity to keep or sell at its discretion.

According to North Carolina law, that second DWI will get a car seized — even if it doesn’t belong to the driver. But even though public officers are the ones seizing the vehicles, law enforcement does not profit from their seizure. Instead, local schools do, according to Watson.

In 2012, the sheriff’s office seized a total of 49 vehicles. In 2013, 18 have been seized so far. Those numbers, however, don’t represent how many vehicles were actually forfeited by a judge’s orders to the school board. Some were only seized for a short duration over the course of an investigation or were claimed by their actual owners, Watson said.

Like court fines and bond forfeitures, proceeds from the forfeiture of seized vehicles go to the local school system, but it’s rare that the vehicles end up in the school board’s hands.

According to Kim Edwards, the Beaufort County Board of Education’s attorney, the amount made from seized vehicles is rather small and there’s a reason for that: “innocent owners” can step forward to reclaim the vehicles seized. And in the case of newer vehicles, unless a car is completely paid for and no money is owed on it, the lien-holder on the vehicle is that innocent owner.

Another glitch in the school board profiting off seizures is the amount of time between a car being seized and a judge-ordered forfeiture. According to Edwards, once a vehicle is seized, it goes to Buddy’s Garage for three or four days, then is sent on to a state facility where it’s stored. But as time passes and the wait for trial continues, the storage fees begin to climb. At a certain point — when storage fees reach 85 percent of the car’s value — the car is sold by the state.

So far, this year, Edwards has handled one forfeiture hearing that brought in $10,000 for Beaufort County Schools.

“It might be the only forfeiture hearing we have this year,” Edwards said. “The (court) fines and (bond) forfeitures are where we get most of our money.”

As for Barrow, the man who allegedly led Sgt. Sheppard on a chase and was charged with DWI and driving with a revoked license from a prior DWI conviction, whether money from the sale of his car ends up helping local schools largely depends on, old or new, if his car was paid off.

Barrow was also charged with felony flee to elude arrest, careless and reckless driving and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was held on a $2,000 secured bond.