FRANKLIN COUNTY, N.C. — Investigators believe a tail rotor problem led to the May helicopter crash that killed Franklin County Deputy Ted Horton, but there are new concerns about whether the aircraft should have been flying in the first place.
"There are substantial questions with regard to the airworthiness of the aircraft," county attorney Darnell Batton said.
In his report to commissioners, Batton cited criticism from Southeastern Helicopters where the chopper was stored. The report quotes Southeastern President Patrick Cronin as saying, "It may be flyable, but it is not airworthy ... all work was done for display purposes only."
"[It's] serious stuff. It really is. It just appalled me," county commissioner Harry Foy said.
Foy said he is also troubled by the inconsistent statements in the report from both the pilot Deputy Ben Barrick and Sheriff Jerry Jones.
Officials said Jones did not follow county protocol by going to commissioners with the helicopter deal. Despite assuring officials that the county would face no financial or liability obiligation, a signed contract states just the opposite.
"I advised the sheriff of the need for him to seek independent legal counsel," Batton said.
Barrick could also be on the hook because the contract promised the aircraft was in excellent conditon.
"If that's true -- that report -- it's been a lot of cases of bad judgement, bad calls and hopefully, in the future, it will be done different," Foy said.
Barrick remains on medical leave with a back injury and it is unclear whether he will ever return to the sheriff's office. Ted Horton's widow, Anne, told WRAL she is glad commissioners confirmed her husband died in the line of duty. She had no comment on the other controversies.
WRAL was unable to get comments from Jones on Tuesday. Franklin County commissioners voted to pay worker's compensation after a report determined both deputies were on sheriff's office business at the time of the crash.