Local News

Commissioners Dispute Helicopter Owner's Claim That Franklin County Owes Him Money After Crash

Posted June 6, 2004

— Franklin County commissioners dispute claims by the owner and pilot of a helicopter that crashed that the sheriff's office owes him more than $93,000.

"The board has no intent to pay that bill until we have much better information than we have now," said Dr. Raymond Stone, of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

Two weeks after the fatal crash, in which Deputy Ted Horton was killed and pilot Ben Barrick suffered a back injury,

Sheriff Jerry Jones received a letter from Barrick demanding nearly $94,000 for the helicopter and another $3,000 in unpaid maintenance costs.

Barrick claimed the county was in breach of a written agreement signed by Jones. He outlined payment deadlines and said there would be added interest if those deadlines are not met.

The county commissioners said the contract is not valid.

"The sheriff made a mistake in signing the contract without clearance from the county finance office and without clearance from the county commissioners," Stone said.

Stone said only the county commissioners can make budget claims. He also said there is no money appropriated in the current budget -- or the next -- for a helicopter.

"There are many flaws in the contract," Stone said. "Whether there are enough to deny it, that remains to be seen."

Stone said he and the commissioners are prepared to fight Barrick's claim. He hopes a federal safety investigation will help.

"If they find the craft was defective, that strengthens our case, I think."

Part of the written agreement Jones signed guaranteed the helicopter was in excellent flying condition.

County leaders dispute that contention.

Stone said Barrick -- who owns the helicopter and was made a deputy by Jones so the sheriff's office could have a pilot for the craft -- remains employed by Franklin County but is on medical leave.

WRAL tried to contact Barrick. But he did not return messages.

Attempts to reach Jones also failed. Last week, he told WRAL he was advised not to comment.

Stone said the commissioners have not talked about asking for Jones' resignation. Because the sheriff is elected, only a public recall could force him out of office.

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