By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Taking the day off to catch a Hogs game turned out to be no walk in the ballpark for an Arkansas narcotics agent who crashed his police vehicle — then ditched it, along with his guns, credentials and beer cooler — on a dirt road miles away from the ballgame.
Roy Bethell, a Group 6 Narcotics agent employed by Clark County and tasked with working on drug cases in a three-county area, found himself the target of another agency’s investigation in Northwest Arkansas when he left the scene of a car accident.
According to a police report filed April 15 by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Bethell crashed his government-issued GMC Yukon into a tree near West Fork, a town 10 miles south of Fayetteville. The report lists Bethell as a suspect on charges of leaving the scene of an accident.
According to the report, at 1:50 a.m., Washington County deputies responded to an unrelated disturbance when they took note of an abandoned, wrecked Yukon with damage to the headlight assembly and tree bark where the headlight assembly should have been. Both airbags had been deployed although there was no evidence that the accident happened in the immediate area of where the vehicle was parked: “slightly in the roadway” of Sugar Mountain Road near its intersection with U.S. Highway 71.
The doors were left unlocked, giving police the go-ahead to check out the interior. A “strong odor of intoxicants” greeted Cpl. Robert Wingate when he opened the driver’s side door and found firearms, law enforcement equipment and police credentials. Among the credentials found in the vehicle was a Group 6 DTF (Drug Task Force) patch, which led Wingate to contact that agency’s director, Eddie Keathley.
Keathley confirmed the Group 6 vehicle was issued to Bethell and added that Bethell had taken off work that Friday to see the Arkansas Razorbacks play a baseball game at Baum-Walker Stadium.
At Keathley’s request the Washington County authorities secured the service weapons and had the vehicle towed. In addition to the service weapons inside the vehicle, the officers located an empty cooler, ice in the floorboard and one beer. After retrieving the weapons, officers left the beer and cooler inside, and had American Towing haul the vehicle away, at about 3:51 a.m., according to a receipt obtained under the auspices of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Washington County authorities then focused their immediate efforts on locating Bethell. The initial officers left their nighttime shift, informing daytime officers of their findings. Supplied with Bethell’s phone number and at the behest of a daytime deputy, a dispatcher pinged Bethell’s phone and led police to a Super 8 hotel in Fayetteville, less than 2 miles from the stadium.
Asked if he knew the whereabouts of his government-issued vehicle, Bethell reportedly told police he had left the game and that his phone GPS routed him to the area where the accident happened, on a dirt road roughly 17 miles from the stadium. Bethell further told police that he swerved to miss a deer but instead struck a tree. Bethell added that he had someone pick him up from where he left the wrecked vehicle. The report does not indicate who provided Bethell the lift back to the hotel.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, April 15, Wingate was back on duty and discovered the crash location roughly 1.5 miles from where he found Bethell’s abandoned vehicle. Wingate also found the missing headlight assembly and noted in his report that Bethell was likely “negotiating a slight left turn” when the accident happened. Wingate also documented unopened beer cans and a beer box “in the immediate area of the crash site.” The report further indicates that some items were tossed into a ravine, as Wingate noted he was unable to take close-up photos of some evidence due to the “steep, wooded hill” where he saw the beer box.
The service weapons officers secured had since been returned to Bethell at the behest of Clark County’s sheriff, and Wingate was unable to make contact with Bethell at the motel because he had already checked out. Wingate added: “I will attempt to make contact with Roy to give him a citation for leaving the scene of an accident due to wrecking the vehicle … and then driving [it] approximately 1.5 miles … then abandoning the vehicle.” It remains unknown whether Washington County will pursue charges against Bethell.
Upon returning to Clark County, Bethell would be placed on five days of administrative leave without pay, beginning Monday, April 17. Bethell’s time sheet for that pay period was also obtained through a FOIA request. Sheriff Jason Watson told The Arkadelphian in a text message that “As I was made aware of the situation I addressed it as a personnel matter.”
Two and a half weeks later Clark County would receive a $1,439 bill from American Towing. The receipt was itemized in handwriting in the margins of the document, listing the storage fee as $945.
Despite an Arkansas law that requires towing companies to post their fees in plain sight for customers to see, a representative who answered the phone for American Towing would not provide The Arkadelphian with their daily storage rate. The newspaper, however, inquired through the Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board, which provided American Towing’s daily rates as $45/day based on the company’s 2021 rates. Bethell’s government-issued SUV was in storage at a Northwest Arkansas wreck yard for 21 days. It has since been towed to Beene’s Towing & Recovery in Arkadelphia, where it remained at the time of this writing.
Clark County Judge Troy Tucker said he was made aware of the towing bill when Chief Deputy Raymond Funderburk turned in the invoice, but wasn’t initially given an explanation as to why the sheriff’s office had incurred the expense. Tucker said the county has since paid the original tow bill but has not received any additional invoices.
Tucker said Tuesday morning that he spoke with the insurance company, which is expected to consider the vehicle a total loss. The judge said any expenses are expected be reimbursed through the insurance company.