Local News

Facts Distorted About Helicopter Crash, Franklin County Sheriff Says

Posted June 20, 2005 7:39 a.m. EDT

— The man at the center of a helicopter crash in Franklin County says attorneys have told him not to comment on the controversy surrounding the accident.

Sheriff Jerry Jones said he had the best of intentions when he agreed to bring an air rescue program to Franklin County. Those intentions ended in tragedy and a lot of bad feelings across Franklin County when the helicopter crashed last May, killing a Franklin County deputy, Ted Horton.

Questions also surfaced about why the Franklin County Sheriff's Department was using the helicopter in the first place. The one person who can answer some of those questions is not talking, saying he cannot tell his side of the story just yet.

"The facts have been distorted," Jones told WRAL. "When you have attorneys that say there's no comment you can make to the press, I think that's what you're supposed to do," Jones said.

County manager Chris Coudriet said that he does not think the sheriff intended to deceive anyone. Sorting out who is responsible for what, however, is legally confusing.

It starts with the helicopter contract, which Coudriet said Jones signed off on without county approval. "I think mistakes were clearly made and procedures weren't followed," Coudriet said.

And then there is the pilot, Ben Barrick, who was also a sworn deputy, against whom the Franklin County district attorney is considering filing involuntary manslaughter charges.

Federal crash investigators question Barrick's training and said the helicopter was in poor working condition when it crashed.

Despite that, Barrick has collected $23,000 in worker's compensation from the county for a crash-related back injury.

Jones said Barrick started a new company in Illinois called Helistar Air Rescue. WRAL confirmed with the Illinois secretary of state and did find that company listed to a Ben T. Barrick.

Jones, who also had to pay back the state approximately $1,500 for surplus helicopter equipment that was missing after the crash, said he thinks the controversy will end soon, but the Coudriet said it would not end until everyone involved has a clear understanding of what led to the crash.