PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Repeated vehicle collisions involving Pender County Sheriff’s patrol vehicles are putting a strain on an already limited fleet at the Sheriff’s Office. It’s also prompting questions about deputies’ driving skills, and the cost that all of these collisions are creating for tax payers.
On April 24, Deputy Benjamin was involved in a single vehicle rollover collision while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect on U.S. Hwy. 17 near Scotts Hill. Benjamin was injured when his patrol car rolled down an embankment. He was treated and released from the hospital. The operator of the white BMW he was pursuing was later arrested.
Deputy Dragocastano crashed his vehicle the same night, while responding to assist Benjamin with the pursuit. A sheriff’s department spokesperson said it was a single-vehicle collision with minor damage and no injuries.
Less than a week later, on April 30, 2022, Deputy Guilliams was involved in a collision after a deer ran into the roadway. No one was injured, and the extent of the damage to the patrol vehicle is unclear.
Then, on May 6, Deputy Young was involved in a single-vehicle rollover collision while responding to a breaking and entering residential alarm. Deputy Young was treated and released from the hospital. Pictures of his patrol car show severe damage, and the vehicle is likely totaled.
The Pender County Sheriff’s Office says all of these collisions were investigated by the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
“These collisions are also being actively investigated internally and cannot be discussed due to personnel laws,” a PCSO spokesperson told WECT when asked if there had been any disciplinary or corrective action taken following the string of collisions. “These vehicles will be evaluated by our insurance company and status of use will be determined.”
In March, WECT became aware of a Pender County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle shortage, after getting body cam video of a suspect being detained in the dog cage of a K-9 vehicle. The sheriff explained that the department was short on vehicles, and a deputy had been issued a K-9 vehicle to use for patrols because his regular vehicle was in the shop. That incident made headlines after the suspect escaped while deputies waited for another vehicle to arrive that could be used to safely transport the suspect, since the K-9 vehicle was not equipped with rear seats or seatbelts.
At the time, Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler acknowledged the vehicle shortage, but stopped short of saying the incident showed his department was in dire need of a larger fleet.
“Personally, I will not use that to try to get more vehicles. It would be nice to get more vehicles but I would not feel comfortable using this incident that happened that night as an excuse to get more vehicles and get more equipment,” Sheriff Cutler said.
In addition to the incidents above, two deputies have hit pedestrians in recent months. The first incident happened in October, when 28-year-old Courtney Kirkham of Hampstead was struck and killed by a sheriff’s deputy on patrol. Deputy Nicholas Hesse was not hurt in that collision. He was placed on paid administrative leave, but no charges had been filed against him at last check.
Then, on May 2, an off-duty Pender County Sheriff’s deputy struck a pedestrian while driving his personal vehicle in Burgaw. The incident report indicates the pedestrian was intoxicated, and the off-duty deputy was not charged. Because he was not in a patrol vehicle, and not on-duty, WECT is not naming him, but the station has confirmed this person is employed as a deputy with the PCSO.
WECT has reached out to all five Pender County Commissioners to get their response to the recent string of collisions, the impact to tax payers due to the damaged vehicles, and the shortage of patrol cars. We will update this story if any of them respond. We’ve also reached out to Pender County administrators about the total cost of repairs, and are awaiting a response.
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