Former Wake Tech president convicted of child abuse
Posted February 14, 2011 1:17 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2011 6:10 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — A judge on Monday found the retired president of Wake Technical Community College guilty of child abuse, saying he endangered the safety of his three grandchildren.
Cary police said Bruce Inman Howell placed a nail behind the tire of a car in which his three granddaughters, ages 9, 7 and 3, were riding last November. The car belonged to the children's maternal grandfather, Leonard Avery, police said.
Avery testified during a brief non-jury trial Monday that he suspected Howell was putting nails in his tires after he had multiple flats soon after picking up the children from Howell's home.
"Once the kids were in the car, I watched my rear-view mirror, and I watched him duck behind the right back tire on the passenger side and disappear out of sight," Avery testified.
He hired a private investigator, who caught Howell on videotape ducking down behind the car.
Howell, who served as president of Wake Tech from 1980 to 2003, testified that he was picking up a granola bar wrapper, not putting a nail in the tire.
District Judge Jennifer Green didn't believe Howell's explanation and convicted him on three counts of misdemeanor child abuse and one count of injury to personal property.
Howell, 68, of 1105 Queensferry Road in Cary, was sentenced to consecutive 60-day jail terms on the charges, which Green suspended to unsupervised probation and 75 hours of community service.
His family has maintained that the charges stemmed from a heated custody dispute between Howell's son, Bruce Howell Jr., and his ex-wife, Kristin Howell. The couple divorced last June, and Bruce Howell Jr. moved out of their Holly Springs home into his parents' home.
Both sets of grandparents have sought to maintain visitation rights with the three children.
As part of Howell's sentence, he cannot have any contact with his grandchildren without his son's supervision.
He declined to comment as he left court.
"It was really a relief to get this behind us and (make) our grandchildren safe again," Avery said after the trial.