Ocracoke Island was in an uproar over the weekend when two state troopers made their presence known during a big tourist weekend that ended with the patrolmen’s cars getting vandalized.
Troopers from Troop A, District 4 in Washington (Beaufort County) arrived on the island Wednesday and left Saturday morning, First Sgt. Brandon Craft said today.
Over the weekend, 59 citations were issued, including 32 for not wearing seat belts and five for driving while impaired, Craft said. Eighteen warnings were given, and only warnings were given for bicycle infractions, such as riding at night without a light.
Early Saturday morning, the troopers’ cars were vandalized. One car had a cinder block thrown through the back window and the other had paint splashed all over it, Craft confirmed.
The cars were seen on the Swan Quarter ferry Saturday morning and a photo of the car with the smashed window was posted on a Facebook page. Craft said Monday that the cars have been fixed and are back in action. Jason Daniels, Hyde County deputy sergeant on Ocracoke, said the incident is being investigated.
All of this happened during the first big tourist weekend for Ocracoke—the 30th Annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament — and some fishermen and tournament officials were dismayed.
“We knew there would be an influx of traffic that weekend, and when that happens, there’s the increased potential for violations,” Craft said about choosing this weekend to show up. “Our job is to reduce accidents, deter problems, and be proactive rather than reactive. We arrested five drunk drivers who could have hit a child (or adult) on the road.”
People should respect the law, Craft continued.
“People shouldn’t expect to get on Ocracoke and disobey the law,” he said. “It really shouldn’t be a big deal for a trooper to be on the island.”
After all, the entire state is their jurisdiction. They write tickets every day all over this district, which covers Beaufort, Washington, Tyrell and Hyde counties.
He said 99 percent of the people on Ocracoke are law abiding and that several came up to him on Sunday when he was on the island to apologize for the behavior of a few.
“We’re not going to retaliate,” he continued. “We don’t know who did this. It’s not fair to blame the locals. As long as people on Ocracoke are abiding by the law they don’t have anything to worry about. ”
But he did say that Ocracoke is different when it comes to traffic.
“You have bicycles, golf carts, trucks, cars and pedestrians all being poured down those roads,” he said. “That’s a recipe for disaster when you add alcohol. I will do everything I can to arrest drunk drivers.”
As for seat belts that Ocracokers are sometimes lax about wearing, Craft said that often a small infraction such as a seat belt violation leads to a drunk driving arrest.
“We get paid to be nosy,” he said. “As uncomfortable as it is, that’s what we get paid to do.”
County Manager Bill Rich said he personally apologized and offered support in the investigation to both Captain John Nyberg, head of the district, and Craft on behalf of the county and Ocracoke.
“They both assured me it would not become personal and there would be no retribution to the county, Ocracoke or its residents,” Rich said.
Some locals are concerned that now the troopers will be “out for blood” and that local resentment will build.
“Unless we quell these things early, they can get out of hand,” noted Fred Westervelt, who owns the Cove B&B.
Why are they coming only on these busy weekends, he asked. Why don’t they come here at other times and get to know us?
Craft said that his troopers would be here more often except for Ocracoke’s geographical challenges.
“We do roadblocks on a regular basis all over this district, with three or four this weekend in Beaufort and Tyrell counties,” Craft said. “We’re not doing anything different on Ocracoke than we do anywhere else. We get to Ocracoke when we can.”
He did say he has gotten a lot of calls today on the weekend’s events and that he was asked to come to Ocracoke for a special community forum.
“I’d be open to that,” he said, but so far, nothing has been set up.
In the meantime, Craft said he accomplished his goal and that if anyone has concerns, they are welcome to talk to him at the barracks office at 252-946-7731.