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Highway Patrol Chief's Resignation Leaves Troopers Fighting Public Perception

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RALEIGH — The Commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol is leaving his post. After more than thirty years of service, Colonel E.W. Horton will retire this week, under a cloud of suspicion.

Horton's resignation was tendered in the shadow of a controversy surrounding his alleged acceptance of free building supplies.

Last week, Governor Hunt ordered an investigation into allegations Horton accepted steel beams, and $25,000 worth of bricks, for free, for his Wake Forest home.

The deal for bricks and steel that brought down Horton has the troopers he led fighting public perception.

"Any time you have a bad apple, per se, everybody looks at it and says, 'That's the whole organization,'" says Trooper J.B. Gardner. "But that's not the way it is."

Gardner says that while Horton may leave relatively untarnished, the patrol's reputation will suffer.

"He may have tarnished his career just a little bit, but he's a fair man," Gardner says. "I don't think he did anything really majorly wrong, however people are going to look at the Highway Patrol, the state organization, and say, 'Well, there's one bad person there' and stereotype the rest of us."

Horton's resignation is not the first black mark against the patrol. Most of the men in the ranks remember November of 1995.

That's when Horton's predecessor, Col. Robert Barefoot, resigned over his friendship with the leader of a stolen goods ring.

Troopers like Beckley Vaughan say they just keep their minds on the job. Vaughan says he will perform his job the same way, no matter who is at the top.

"It does not affect me directly," Vaughan says. "It may make some indirect changes with policies and programs within the highway patrol. But for us, every single day we get out and do our job, talk with our immediate supervisors and our day-to-day activities go on as always."

Troopers emphasize that the public will probably notice no difference.

There is no timetable yet for replacing Horton, whose last day is Thursday.

Right now, the Highway Patrol is being run by the two lieutenant colonels directly below Horton in the ranks.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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