07/19/06 — DA: Two charges are from contract inquiries

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DA: Two charges are from contract inquiries

By Turner Walston
Published in News on July 19, 2006 1:51 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Charges against two former Duplin County emergency service workers stem from an attempt to force Johnston Ambulance Service out of the county, District Attorney Dewey Hudson said during a press conference Tuesday.

Curtis Brock, 39, former director of Duplin County EMS, and Barbara Coman, 29, a former employee who worked for Brock, were charged by the SBI with illegally accessing the computer network of Johnston Ambulance Service and computer trespassing against the company -- both misdemeanors.

Ms. Coman, a former Johnston Ambulance employee, allegedly helped Brock gain access to computer files maintained by the company. At the time, county commissioners were considering allowing Duplin County EMS to begin non-emergency transports, which are currently handled by private ambulance carriers.

Investigators said Dr. Thomas Hunter, the owner of another ambulance carrier, Coastline Care, recorded conversations with Brock and County Commissioner Larry Howard earlier this year. Brock indicated he wanted help from Coastline to force Johnston out of the county. Since the effort was unsuccessful, Hudson said, no criminal charges would be filed.

"No evidence of a criminal violation of North Carolina's free trade laws was discovered. An attempt to commit a crime is not a crime," Hudson said at a press conference at Duplin Commons. He did not elaborate on the circumstances that allowed Brock and Coman to gain access to the Johnston computers, but he indicated that computer security measures had been compromised.

Hudson said the crime of unauthorized access is punishable as a felony only if the scheme results in damages of more than $1,000. Since no such damages were proven, the charges were misdemeanors, he said.

Jimmy Dixon, an adviser to Coastline Care, said that as a former employee of the company, Ms. Coman had access to the information. He said she had been approached by Brock with the intention of obtaining the names, addresses and medical information of Duplin County residents transported by Johnston Ambulance Service. Dixon said Ms. Coman approached authorities with the information.

"As soon as she realized the seriousness of it, and before being approached by any law enforcement, she came forward and gave a truthful deposition to the SBI and to the attorneys of Johnston Ambulance Service," Dixon said.

In the taped conversations, Brock told Hunter he had the blessing of some county officials in pursuing the agreement with Coastline.

Dixon said Hunter did the right thing in taping the conversations.

"Dr. Hunter was not willing to stand by and allow county officials to treat Johnston Ambulance Service in an unethical, if not illegal, manner. In my opinion, Dr. Hunter is to be commended for what he did," Dixon said.

Brock has retained attorney Robert Rice of Mount Olive.

"We're disappointed that the District Attorney has elected to initiate charges against Curtis, even though they are minor charges," Rice said Tuesday. "Any charges at all, of course, create a blemish against an otherwise untarnished name."

Rice said he does not believe there are grounds for criminal charges against Brock.

"Curtis Brock's only crime is being dedicated to his job and loyal to his employers. If all of Duplin County's employees are as dedicated and loyal as Curtis Brock, the county is fortunate indeed. We will deal with the charges in the normal legal process."

Brock resigned in May following a period of administrative leave. He was appointed the director of the Emergency Services Department in 2004.

"This has been very disruptive for Curtis and his family, particularly, someone who is as honest and hard-working as Curtis is," Rice said. "But he's going to deal with it and move forward as best he can."

Brock and Ms. Coman were released Monday on written promises to appear.

They are scheduled to appear in District Court in Kenansville on Aug. 16 at 9 a.m.

Commissioner Larry Howard refused to comment today on his role in the ambulance contract discussions or the charges against the two former EMS staff members.