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State to preview new crime lab plans

EDNEYVILLE — The public is invited to attend an informational session next week on plans to build a new Western Regional Crime Laboratory to provide faster more comprehensive forensic analysis of crime scene evidence to help local law enforcement solve cases, pinpoint suspects and exonerate the innocent.

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The public meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 8, from 6 to 7 p.m. in the gymnasium on the Larry T. Justus Western Justice Academy campus at 3971 Chimney Rock Road. State Crime Lab and Justice Academy personnel will make a brief presentation on the project and be available to answer questions.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and the Department of Justice first sought funding for a larger crime lab to meet the needs of western North Carolina in 2012. Legislators provided money for planning and design in 2013 and funded construction of the new lab as part of the fiscal year 2014-2015 budget.
The new lab will be more than twice as large as the current Western Crime Lab, which is located in Asheville. The current lab provides criminal justice agencies with forensic analysis in the following disciplines: drug chemistry, latent evidence, and firearms and tool marks.
At the larger facility to be built on the Western Justice Academy campus in Edneyville, the Lab will add experts in more forensic disciplines, including 10 new toxicology positions to process blood alcohol and blood drug evidence in cases such as DUIs and 10 new positions to process DNA evidence. Additional forensic scientists in the Western Lab allows for scientists to be closer to court when needed to testify in a case. It also means less time traveling to court and more time in the lab analyzing evidence for scientists, who now must spend time out of the lab traveling from the State Crime Lab in Raleigh and the Triad Regional Crime Lab in Greensboro to court in western counties.
DOJ is currently accepting bids for construction and expects to break ground on the project this summer. Construction of the 36,000-square-foot $16.8 million lab is expected to take approximately 24 months, depending on factors such as weather. A temporary expansion of the existing lab in Asheville is underway to house new toxicologists until the Edneyville lab is completed.
The Western Crime Laboratory serves law enforcement in 32 western counties: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rowan, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey.