County manager allows employee with DWI charge to drive, admits mistake

County manager allows employee with DWI charge to drive, admits mistake

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A New Hanover County employee drove a county-issued vehicle after being charged with a DWI -- and the county manager said he mistakenly allowed him to do so.

Chris Coudriet said he was under the impression the county's DWI policy was revised in 2015 to allow employees with pending DWI charges to drive county-issued vehicle once they received limited driving privileges by the State.

"It's unfortunate, but it is what it is," Coudriet said

He explained he even drafted the revision, but it wasn't adopted. The policy, which has been on the books since 2006, states:

Any employee who has had their license revoked for any reason is not permitted to drive a county vehicle, including those who receive a state-issued Limited Driving Privilege.

Frank Hackett, manager of Emergency Management Services, received a Limited Driving Privilege on April 17, eleven days after being charged with a DWI -- and drove a County-issued vehicle until Wednesday. Coudriet said since he realized his mistake, Hackett is not allowed to drive the county-issued car, or his own personal vehicle, for work purposes.

On April 6, Wrightsville Beach police charged 28-year-old Hackett with DWI and failure to maintain lane control. He was arrested in the 1700 block of Eastwood Road at 1:40 a.m., according to a police report. It is unclear if he was driving his county-issued vehicle or personal vehicle at the time of his arrest.

WECT began looking into the DWI policy after receiving an email from Ruth Smith, a spokesperson for the county. She said Hackett followed all county policies regarding the situation, which includes immediately notifying a supervisor.

Court documents show it was his direct supervisor, Steven Still, director of Emergency Management Services, who picked him up from jail.

"In terms of driving, Frank did not drive a county vehicle when he lost his driving privileges," Smith said through email Tuesday. "When his driving privileges were restored, he was permitted to drive a county vehicle for purposes of his job."

Coudriet said he gave Smith the information to send because he believed it to be true.

"I thought I knew the facts of the policy, so what was shared with you, was absolutely from my perspective, factual from that way I understood it," Coudriet explained. "Certainly, it proves to be otherwise, and that's unfortunate and I'm responsible for that, but she shared with you the statement that was given to her."

WECT received a tip that Hackett drove his county vehicle during the 11-day period he was without a license. During the interview, Coudriet said that was not the case.

"What I can say is the vehicle was here at the Government Center, parked, and I have no reason to believe within the period of it being parked here and what I'm terming a provisional license restored that he operated that county vehicle, I have not seen any evidence of that," Coudriet stated.

However, minutes after the interview, Ruth Smith called to clarify that they'd learned the county vehicle was not parked at the government center like Coudriet was told -- it was actually at Hackett's apartment. She said they don't know how it got back to the center, and when asked if they could still confirm the vehicle wasn't driven during the 11-day revocation period, Smith said she could not comment.

Coudriet said he still hopes to consider the revision to the DWI policy.

"I felt like we needed to look at DWIs based on charges versus convictions, and that if a court was going to issue a license to operate a vehicle, I was of the opinion that should be a standing reason for us to allow someone to continue with their duty," Coudriet explained.

Coudriet said Hackett is still an employee and has not received any disciplinary action.

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