Border Patrol's seized vehicles help Yuma students

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YUMA, Ariz. (AP) -- Whether the "Service Engine Soon" light is on or there is a problem with the brakes or electrical systems, Yuma-area students taking automotive classes this year at their various high schools will have the opportunity to hone their auto mechanic skills on some vehicles that are finally being put to good use.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has donated a total of eight vehicles to vocational automobile programs at four Yuma-area schools, with Yuma, Cibola, Antelope and Kofa each getting two vehicles.

"It is really important for the students to work on the newest model cars available," said Norm Champagne, vocational auto instructor at Kofa High School. "The students can take these cars apart, diagnose the problem and put it back together."

The vehicles, five sedans and three minivans, had been seized during the commission of crimes over the past six months. Most often, the seized vehicles had been used in failed attempts to smuggle aliens or drugs into the country.

"We are happy to donate seized vehicles and other property whenever we can," said Aurelio Alvarez of the Yuma Sector Asset Forfeiture Office. "It is a pleasure to give students and other agencies the opportunity to train on real vehicles."

The vehicles, which were all in operating condition but not licensed, were towed for free to the schools by Dick's 25 Hour Towing.

The makes of the vehicles were Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mazda and Buick and were from 1997 to 2001 models

"It is a really great thing that we can give this surplus to somewhere that it is needed," said Ken Jensen, public affairs specialist for CBP.

Champagne said a lot of the vehicles the school used to receive did not run or weren't complete, which made it difficult for the students to use for their training.

"Generally we turn those down now because we need vehicles that run," Champagne said. "Vehicles that are running are more beneficial as training aides. Students can use the diagnostic equipment on them."

Champagne said as part of each of the school's vocational auto courses, students are constantly presented with the task of diagnosing, correcting and repairing vehicles featuring an array of problems.

What the students learn, Champagne said, not only builds upon the educational coursework taught in the class but also helps prepare them for auto service technology competition, such asthe Arizona SkillsUSA and the National Automotive Technology Competition.

Champagne added that he would like to work out an arrangement withCBP to receive seized vehicles every year.

According to the Border Patrol - in addition to cash and drugs, several horses, two personal watercraft, four aircraft, furniture, computers and other items - the Yuma Sector seized 278 vehicles during fiscal year 2009.

Items not retained for government use are sold at auction, according to the Border Patrol.

Often seized items that were used in the commission of crimes had previously have been stolen.

Before they are disposed of, and to protect ownership rights, the agency makes every effort to return the seized items to their lawful owners.

According to the Border Patrol, the seizure of assets used in criminal activity, such as vehicles, disrupts criminals and their organizations by depriving them of assets needed to commit additional crimes.

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Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com

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