Victim solves crime, pays for it

Consider this a little story about how government works — or doesn’t.

On March 17, someone stole a trailer from a job site on Macon Tech Drive. It belonged to Laurie Cumbie, who lives in Danville, and he reported it stolen to the Macon Police Department.

On July 1, Cumbie was driving through downtown Macon when he spotted his trailer near the corner of Mulberry and Third streets. The trailer had come unattached from a Jeep Cherokee, and two men were trying to re-secure it.

Cumbie called police, who arrived and made an arrest after one of the men acknowledged that he’d bought the trailer from another man without making sure it wasn’t stolen. Cumbie, it appeared, had solved his own crime.

But there was a problem. Cumbie didn’t have his case number with him, and he provided the wrong address when officers asked the address where the trailer had been stolen, according to a police report on the incident. Apparently, this type of record can’t be searched for by the victim’s last name, so Cumbie couldn’t prove to police that he actually owned the trailer.

Because of this, and because the trailer was “partially damaged” and “a road hazard,” police officers had it towed to an impound lot, according to the report. The initial theft report was found soon afterward and Cumbie was given his trailer. But he had to pick it up at the impound lot and pay $100 for the tow.

“I feel like I was treated like a dog,” Cumbie said.

Though the trailer was damaged, Cumbie said it was safe to tow. He said the fenders and the jack were messed up when the trailer came unhitched from the trailer, but the hitch mechanism itself was fine.

At any rate, no repairs were made before he picked the trailer up from the impound lot, so any problems that existed when Cumbie found his trailer downtown were still problems when he pulled out of the lot $100 poorer, he said.

Cumbie complained about having to pay for the tow and, according to police reports, “was very argumentative, stating he didn’t feel like the Macon Police Department was worth anything.” Cumbie eventually filed a claim with the city, seeking reimbursement of his $100.

The City Attorney’s Office reviewed Cumbie’s claim, then turned him down, saying “at the time the vehicle was towed, you were unable to demonstrate ownership of the vehicle.” The city’s letter to Cumbie also leans on municipal immunity, a state law that basically says cities can’t be sued for the actions of police officers in the line of duty.

But even though officers couldn’t be sure who owned the trailer, they apparently had enough information to make an arrest after Cumbie called them. They took Samuel Smith, 38, into custody, and he told officers that he bought the trailer from a man he knew only as “David,” according to police documents.

He also said David was actually in jail when the purchase was made, and that he paid David’s girlfriend $450 for the trailer, the documents show.

The Telegraph tried to contact the detective and police lieutenant who, according to written reports, dealt with Cumbie the day he found his stolen trailer, but neither one returned telephone messages.

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.