WRAL Investigates

State agency investigating employee's poor driving record

Posted September 20, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2010 7:00 p.m. EDT

— A bad driving record didn't keep the state Department of Correction from hiring a repeat speeder to drive one of its vans. That employee continued the streak and was pulled over several times while driving the department’s vehicle.

The WRAL Investigates team looked at how the DOC screens its drivers and how tickets slip through the court system

Dennis Strickland, a technician with the DOC, has driven all over the state and received four tickets in his state van since 2009. He has received a total of at least 20 speeding tickets – 17 of which in the past 10 years. In one case, he was driving 102 mph in a 65 mph zone.

“When you have someone with a record that lengthy, it might signal a problem,” said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon.

Gordon said he can’t speak to this case, but the last two troopers to pull Strickland over did speak out by mentioning his record on the ticket. A prosecutor in Nash County also added a note to Strickland’s last ticket: “(He) has a terrible driving record.”

“We got a complaint about two weeks ago. The person called a supervisor, and we’ve been looking into it ever since,” said DOC spokesman Keith Acree.

Until then, the DOC did not know about the tickets in the state van. It's the employees' responsibility to report them. One day after WRAL's interview, Strickland resigned.

So how was he allowed to drive for the state? Strickland was hired on contract in 2006 and permanently in 2008. He was hired even though his license was suspended for part of 2002 for getting too many tickets.

“It’s something we’ll look into as part of the investigation,” Acree said. “If it’s too much risk, the state’s not going to let him drive.”

The DOC has no set rules on driving records. The person hiring has discretion.

Strickland did receive some breaks along the way. Of the 20 tickets WRAL found, only 12 show up on his driving record for the past 10 years. Most of the tickets he received over the years were in Nash County.

One ticket in 2001 was reduced to an improper muffler charge. Another in 2005, for going 84 in a 55 mph zone, was reduced to an expired registration tag. The same story is repeated for his tickets across the state.

Gordon says lengthy records aren't common, but he's also not surprised.

“It can be very eye-opening. There are going to be people with a bad habit of breaking the law, and if that’s the case, we’ll continue to do what we’re supposed to do and that’s enforce the law,” he said.

DOC officials said they aren’t sure if there will be changes.

“I would like to think that someone who is a consistent repeat offender is not someone we want driving a state van,” Acree said.

Strickland didn't want to talk publicly about his record or his resignation. Prosecutors in Nash County reduced his last ticket from 79 to 64 in a 55 mph zone. He has one more still pending.

Generally, drivers have to appear before a judge if they are caught going more than 15 mph above the speed limit. However, the district attorney's office can arbitrarily reduce the speed or change the charge so many cases never see a judge. That's what happened in most of the tickets WRAL reviewed.