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Marines move cars before moving on

By Cpl. J. Oliver Johnson | | February 20, 2003

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As Yuma Marines prepare to ship out to assist with efforts overseas, some are faced with the question of where to store their personal automobiles while they are deployed.
Some voluntarily turn them over to the Provost Marshal's Office for safe keeping, while others just leave them in the parking lots outside of their barracks in hopes that they aren't cited and towed away.
Those who choose the latter option run the risk of lapsed vehicle registration or insurance, and this may land the vehicle in the station impound lot.

"If you're going to have a personally-owned vehicle, it's your responsibility to keep the registration and insurance current," said Staff Sgt. Dustin F. Nelson, PMO traffic accident investigation chief.

Vehicles that remain motionless for several days, those with expired registration or insurance, or those that just look abandoned, will be cited by PMO with a notice stuck to the windshield, said Nelson.

If the vehicle shows no sign of movement a few days after it is cited, it will be considered abandoned and towed away to the impound lot. The owner will have 120 days to reclaim the vehicle before custody is turned over to the government, said Nelson.

"From there, I really don't know what happens to the cars," he said.

Abandoned vehicles are a very serious matter aboard the air station because of physical security reasons, Nelson explained.

Someone wishing to plant an explosive device could easily do so in a vehicle he knows has not moved for a while, Nelson said.

Abandoned vehicles become neglected and, over a short period of time, can become an eye-sore for the station. On top of that, expired registration and insurance are against station rules and regulations, said Nelson.

"We try to give the Marines the benefit of the doubt," Nelson explained. "We tow the cars, let the Marines take care of any discrepancies, and then we let them have their vehicles back. And they don't have to pay for vehicle storage."

Nelson claims he once towed seven vehicles in one day, and there are currently about 20 more waiting to be towed.

These vehicles can be somewhere on the station, in 16th Street housing or anywhere else governed by the station.

The Marines who choose to hand over temporary custody of their vehicles to PMO must first contact Nelson. Once he ensures the vehicle has current registration and insurance, he and the owner of the vehicle will drive out to the impound lot on County Road 14. Once there, Nelson will inspect the vehicle for any major damage, check its ability to drive away when the time comes, and make an inventory of all personal items in the vehicle.

"It's just a lot easier when they don't have any personal items in the car," Nelson said as he wrote down the serial numbers of several items in one Marine's car. "That's why I tell them to take it all out before the car gets here. A process that should only take five minutes turns into half an hour."

After Nelson inspects the vehicles, it is up to the Marines to prepare their cars for the long storage.

"I'm putting my truck on wooden blocks to help keep the tires from getting flat spots," said Lance Cpl. Nicholas S. Ross, Marine Attack Squadron-214. "I've also rolled the window down a little bit to keep pressure inside from building up. I bought a cover for it and I've added oil and gas treatments to the engine."

"I think my car will be pretty safe here," said Cpl. Chad H. Hutchinson, also of VMA-214, as he unhooked his car's battery to keep it from draining while he's away.

Anyone wishing to enter the storage lot has to get past either two or three fences, depending on which direction they are coming from, said Nelson. There is also a PMO vehicle patrolling the area constantly, along with an armed guard at the near-by ordnance compound.

Upon returning from deployment, one centralized time will be set up for reclaiming vehicles, said Nelson. All stored vehicles must be removed from the storage lot within 45 days of the owner's return to the station. Any unclaimed vehicles after that time may be considered abandoned and, again, be in danger of being impounded.

If access to the vehicle is to be granted to someone other than the owner, a copy of the power of attorney must be turned in to PMO prior to storage.

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