THOMSON - Charlie Newton thought he had the right idea. Unfortunately, things didn't work the way he hoped.
The chairman of the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners moved seven county vehicles from a county equipment yard to a vacant lot late Wednesday night. Newton was upset that the gate to the equipment yard was left open and unattended, while keys to all the vehicles - which included several trucks and a van - were left in the ignitions.
"I pull in there, and I started checking them and some of the vehicles still had keys in them," Newton said. "I just drove a couple of them acrosstown. I was trying to send a message."
Newton said that enforcing security at the facility, also known as the county work barn, has been a problem.
"We've been through several gyrations trying to keep that gate locked," he said.
As a result of having grown so frustrated with trying to protect the county vehicles, which were bought with taxpayer money, Newton did what he thought what was in the best interest for the county.
"I notified my county manager that night, thinking he would head off any ruckus," he said.
Unfortunately, confusion rose Thursday. When the vehicles were reported missing to the Thomson Police Department, many city officials and law enforcement personnel were left scratching their heads. Even the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to help find the vehicles.
McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall, whose department was called by people looking for answers, understood Newton's concerns, but he had reservations of his own.
"I was upset about it, but I understand (Newton's) position too," he said. "That's a lot of equipment, and it's taxpayer money. It should have been locked up. I just wish he would have notified us; we were calling everybody."
Thomson Chief of Police John Hathaway said that the incident inconvenienced his department.
"I was a little upset about it," he said. "We're calling people out to investigate it, and we're using resources that could have been used elsewhere."
No police report was filed.
Newton was extremely apologetic about the incident.
"It was an unexpected consequence," he said of law enforcement's reaction. "That's the bad side of it. I hate to put the sheriff in that position, and I apologize to the sheriff. But I think the message got across."
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