Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 16, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

The rumor mill was overactive during the hurricane, sheriff’s office says

BY CATHERINE KOZAK



As Hurricane Irene tore through Hatteras Island, leaving power and phone outages, impassable roads and flooded homes in its wake, some unsavory people took advantage of the darkness and chaos.

For the most part, however, law enforcers say they have had to contend with no more crime than they might see in a typical deserted winter week.

Reports of muggings, break-ins, and looting have some basis in truth, but they have become exaggerated by the rumor mill, said Dare County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Greg Wilson, supervisor in charge of Hatteras Island.

Rather than downright looting, for instance, people have been mostly picking through the trash on the side of the road, he said, and about five or six metal scrappers --- most of whom have worked on the island for the last two years ---have carted some away. 

What complicates the issue, Wilson said, is that there is a lot of gray area as to what, if any, law is being broken. If items are piled on the property’s edge, it could be for the insurance inspector to see, even though it might technically be where trash will be picked up. 

If a picnic table or a kayak had floated from someone’s lawn to another, he said, that does not qualify it as abandoned property because it was not willfully abandoned. And if a flooded item is placed outside, it may have temporarily been put there to be dried out, not thrown out.

Not to mention the sense of violation some felt about having someone seeking to gain by going through their personal or business losses.

“The people here were getting aggravated,” Wilson said.

In order to keep peace, Wilson said that scavengers are being told to ask the property owner before taking any item from yards or roadside piles. And if they don’t, they’ll be subject to arrest.

But so far, he said that there have been no arrests for looting. Unless police witness the act, charges usually will not be issued unless the person making the report testifies in court.  For that reason, he said, people making complaints have been willing to let it go as long as the police have warned culprits.

People who are sneaking back to the island on small boats , Wilson said, appear to be locals or homeowners who want to circumvent the county’s re-entry requirements.

“I don’t think that was issues of people trying to steal stuff,” he said.

Wilson said one man who had called him to complain about people secretly coming back in boats had himself bragged about getting stealth passage two days before on a charter boat. And the reason Wilson said he knew that is because the man boasted about it on Facebook.

Overall, Wilson said that people on the island’s north end, where Highway 12 was breached, have been generally “pleasant and thankful.” But some folks on the south end, where flooding and damage was less severe, seemed to have been more restless.

After initially regarding the highway closure as a vacation, he said, the happy party drinking soon became angry, bored drinking, with some domestic fights reported.

“Things are smoothing out now,” Wilson said. 

Larceny and breaking and entering incidents at vacated houses had been a problem, especially when the power was out.

Although several other law enforcement agencies initially reinforced the usual number of deputies on patrol, a curfew was put in place to reduce the numbers of people wandering around in the dark looking for mischief. Police said some people were stopped and questioned during the curfew, which was lifted Sept. 4, but no one was arrested.

There were also no arrests for breaking and entering.

According to a news release on Thursday from the Sheriff’s office, the front door of Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras was shot open on Aug. 29 at about 8:30 p.m.

Wilson said that footprints could be seen going straight to where the narcotics would have been if pharmacist Steve Evans had not removed them.  Apparently, after seeing that the drugs were gone, the suspect turned around and left without taking anything.

A witness told police that a medium- to-large-built white male driving a dark-colored sport utility vehicle was spotted near the scene when the gunshot was heard. A small caliber bullet was later found in the store. The investigation is continuing.

Wilson said that Evans had been unable to shutter the front door because of the power outage, but he plans to find a way to address the glitch to prevent repeat break-ins.

Of the 45 calls for service handled by the Hatteras district between midnight Aug. 27 and midnight Aug. 29, most were burglar and fire alarms and welfare checks related to power outages and communication difficulties, according to an e-mail from Chief Deputy Steve Hoggard.

Although Wilson said he has heard rumors of four muggings, the only incident he said that would fit that description happened in Avon during the hurricane. 

Reported on Sept. 1 as a larceny by a friend of the victim, Robert Charles Fox, 77, Hoggard said that Fox had gotten stuck in front of his house the night of the storm.  After being assisted by some unidentified young men, Fox invited them into his house because one of them had requested pain medicine.

As Fox was getting them some ibuprofen, Hoggard wrote, the men allegedly stole his computer and his camera. Fox then suffered a “medical problem,” he said, and was airlifted from the island to The Outer Banks Hospital. 

Hoggard said that Fox, who has no memory of any physical contact with the men, is recovering at his son’s house in Michigan. No one has been arrested.

Anyone having information concerning the pharmacy break-in or other crimes should contact the Dare County Sheriff’s Office or The Dare Community Crime Line at 1-800-745-2746.


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