Teresa Lee is the keeper of the evidence.
Teresa Lee logs into the evidence room at the Columbia County Sheriffs Office where items such as these confiscated video poker machines are stored.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
She unlocks a door and punches in an alarm code before entering a two-story, concrete-walled room filled with everything from video poker machines to abandoned toilets.
It is here that the evidence clerk for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office is in charge of guarding and maintaining all sheriff's office evidence. She also is in charge of items at an impound lot.
"You know what you do is very important," Lee said of her job. "You can't mess up paperwork. You can't lose things."
The climate-controlled room, which stays locked, is located in an older portion of the Columbia County Detention Center on County Camp Road in Appling where prisoners were once booked in.
All evidence investigators collect at crime scenes or while executing search warrants, as well as found or recovered merchandise, ends up in Lee's room.
Lost or found items stay there until an owner is found or the items are used in a court trial.
"You name it. If it's involved, I get it," Lee said.
Lost, recovered or found property is kept for as long as 90 days.
Floor-to-ceiling shelves inside the room hold everything from tools, such as weedeaters, saws and generators, to bamboo and even a bent pipe.
Lee sees plenty of car parts, too, including stereos. Computer equipment is there, some seized in a child pornography case and some in counterfeiting or computer fraud cases.
Four video poker machines also fill the evidence room. Already, 95 such machines that had been housed in the room have been destroyed because their case was cleared through the court system.
Then, there are the strange items.
There are a lot of tools in the evidence room at the Columbia County Sheriffs Department.
08/25/04 Jim Blaylock NEWS-TIMES
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"The toilet is probably the oddest thing," Lee said of a broken commode that will end up in the landfill after it's 90-day time is up. "It fell off the back of a truck going to a construction site. It was found on the side of the road."
Audio and video tapes of interviews, crime scenes and surveillance footage from businesses can be found in the upstairs portion of the evidence room. A separate firearms room also houses all weapons that were used in crimes, including rifles, handguns, bats, shovels and bolt cutters.
Weapons used in crimes eventually are sent to the Columbia, S.C., company SMI Steel, where they are dropped into vats and melted, Lee said. Any unclaimed property that has been found or recovered is either sent to the landfill, donated or can be used by the sheriff's office through a court order.
Before that happens, everything under Lee's guard is labeled.
"... When it comes to important stuff, I'm pretty (meticulous)," Lee said. "I mean it could make or break a case."
Besides keeping an eye on the evidence, though, Lee said she doesn't get involved in the cases.
"I am just the safekeeper of it," she said.
Still, Lee is occasionally called to the scene of a crime so evidence can be quickly turned over to her.
In the end, she said it's a job she enjoys.
"You see a lot of things you don't really want to see, and you see a lot of interesting stuff, too," she said. "I love my job. It's fun and interesting."
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