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Some students are considering tort claims with the Attorney General’s office
WILMINGTON — In the first weeks after Hurricane Florence, police at the University of North Carolina Wilmington got 36 reports of items stolen from residence halls. Two months after the storm, Police Chief David Donaldson estimates that number is now between 65 and 70.
And while many of those cases are inactive, Donaldson said none have been resolved.
“No, there are none that have been fruitful,” he said this week. “It’s unlikely that many of these cases will end with an arrest.”
Police were stationed at campus entrances 24 hours a day during the 25 days UNCW was closed to the public. But campus buildings had to be unlocked for days to allow contractors to begin repairs.
Donaldson said many students and parents have suggested that contractors may have taken items, but he said there isn’t evidence. While he estimates up to 2,000 contractors were on campus through the recovery process, other people could have sneaked into the unlocked buildings.
“There are a lot of assumptions that the contractors are responsible for this, and I’m still of the position that with the thefts we know the when, the time frames, but not the who,” he said.
Reports show items including watches, car keys, gift cards, money, clothing, electronics and a passport stolen from dorm rooms.
Donaldson said without an arrest and recovery of items, students have three paths to reimbursement: renter’s insurance, getting some items covered by their parents’ homeowner’s insurance, and a tort claim filed with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office. A tort claim is a way for a citizen to argue that a state agency, in this case the university, is responsible for their lost property.
Senior and Seahawk Village resident Jonathan Wilkins said he’s looking at the third route. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein did not respond to questions about whether the office has received any tort claims from UNCW students.
When Wilkins returned to campus Oct. 10 from his home in New Bern, he immediately noticed things awry. Not only were toiletries, linens, food and a $75 bottle of cologne missing, but the apartment looked lived-in. Though he said he cleaned his apartment before leaving and was the first of his roommates to return, he found dirty dishes in the dishwasher, even coffee in the coffee maker.
“My bed looked like it had been slept in, which was probably the most disgusting thing,” he said.
Wilkins said he was told that resident assistants (RAs) were given access to dorm rooms and were asked to move belongings away from the windows. He said it wasn’t clear who had moved what in his room.
“The problem was I didn’t know how many people had access to the room,” he said. “So many people were coming and going.”
When UNCW officials issued a mandatory evacuation Sept. 10, a message to campus advised students to bring “medications, items of value, important documents (license, passport, checks), and anything else you could need during a potentially extended absence.” That note to bring “items of value” likely means students would have a hard time proving the university is liable for missing items.
Whatever recourse Wilkins decides to seek, he said he wants Housing and university officials to acknowledge what students are dealing with.
“They just kind of haven’t addressed the problem at all, and that’s what doesn’t sit right with me,” he said.
Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.