ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson has responded following Gov. Roy Cooper’s order that ACE Speedway will be closed immediately.
Johnson says he asked for clarification when the executive order mentioned certain activities being exempt, and the governor’s office did not respond.
“It puts me in a heck of a position as a sheriff, and any sheriff in this state, to try to write a citation to enforce the governor’s order when in fact it’s a constitutional violation in my opinion and the other sheriffs in this state,” Johnson said.
He told FOX8 that he isn’t sure why ACE Speedway was singled out when he was told that multiple other speedways in North Carolina have been running for several weeks.
“The governor stepped up and issued an order of abatement of imminent hazard, which he could have done in the very beginning, and none of this would have been going on,” Johnson said.
During a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Cooper said he was not specifically aware of other tracks. In the case of ACE Speedway, he says they were flagrantly violating the executive order on large gatherings.
Dr. Mandy Cohen with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services partnered with NASCAR to find a way to have the Coca-Cola 600, and they developed specific protocols for a safe event that were followed. She said they repeatedly asked for ACE’s compliance, but that didn’t work. Dr. Cohen says they need to show that they take this seriously.
Johnson says his original concern with being asked to issue ACE Speedway a citation was that it violated the first amendment of the Constitution.
“In his orders, he talked about the following are exempt: churches, weddings…and he stated other activities, which is covered under the first amendment,” Johnson said. “Paying to go see a race and be with your family is certainly a first amendment right. And with that order, I had a problem going and serving those citations.”
Johnson says a chief deputy and a major were sent to the speedway on Saturday and saw crowds with signs calling for unity.
“That puts it in a different light, too. They have a right to protest. Some people say ‘well, they paid money. Nobody else had to pay money.’ You have a right if you want to pay money and go in,” Johnson said.
He says he wants to work with Cooper, but he needs to be convinced that officials aren’t violating the rights of North Carolinians.
“I am concerned about the coronavirus and my citizens, but our Constitution was developed by our forefathers to govern the way law enforcement and everything else works in our society, and I hold that dear to my heart…let’s be level across the board,” Johnson said.
Cooper says local law enforcement has a duty to enforce the executive order and most want to work together. But if NCDHHS becomes aware of similar activity, they will take action.
Cooper and Dr. Cohen said in an order issued on Monday night that the speedway could reopen for customers if it presents a plan showing it will follow state guidelines.
The plan must be approved by the NCDHHS for the speedway to reopen.
The next race is scheduled for Friday June 19.
According to the order obtained by the News and Observer, ACE Speedway has to tell the public by 5 p.m. on Tuesday that races and other upcoming events will be canceled until Monday June 22.
The NCDHHS released a statement saying they have issued an abatement order requiring ACE Speedway to close the facility.
The full statement is provided below:
“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is issuing an Abatement Order requiring ACE Speedway to immediately close their facility and halt operations. The Speedway’s recent actions constitute an imminent hazard for the spread of COVID-19, an acute threat to North Carolinians which must not continue.
This order follows a letter sent last week by Governor Roy Cooper’s office alerting ACE Speedway that their actions are in “open defiance” of Executive Order No. 141, which limits mass gatherings to protect the safety of North Carolinians. Gatherings of more than 25 people in a confined, outdoor space are strictly prohibited. The risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 is higher in settings where people gather, share facilities or have increased respiratory efforts, such as cheering. It was reported the Speedway admitted more than 2,500—and possibly as many as 4,000—spectators to attend races held at the track on May 23, May 30 and June 6.
While the Abatement Order halts operations, it allows ACE Speedway to propose a new plan which could allow races to resume, under the condition that steps be taken to adhere to the restrictions in place regarding mass gathering numbers and social distancing precautions.
The novel coronavirus continues to threaten North Carolina, with recent data indicating an acceleration in the number of new cases, a greater percentage of positive tests and an increase in hospitalizations resulting from COVID-19. Alamance County has had an increasing trend in number of cases since the start of the pandemic with larger increases in the numbers of cases since the last week in April. The doubling time for the outbreak in Alamance reached a maximum of 19.7 days in the last week of May, and decreased to 13.6 days in early June, indicating that viral spread is becoming more rapid.
‘Across the state, North Carolinians are making huge sacrifices to protect their families and neighbors. This virus is highly contagious and very dangerous. Bad actors who flagrantly violate public health orders put all of our families and loved ones at risk,’ said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen.
Anyone who attended a mass event should get tested. The following online resources can help.
- Visit Check My Symptoms (www.ncdhhs.gov/symptoms) and enter your symptoms to determine if you should consider getting tested for COVID-19. If a test is recommended, you will receive a link to a list of nearby testing sites via email or text.
- Visit Find My Testing Place (www.ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace) and enter your county or ZIP code to access a list of nearby testing site locations online.
All North Carolinians should continue practicing the 3 Ws to protect themselves and others when leaving home. Wear a cloth face covering if you will be with other people. Wait 6 feet apart and avoid close contact. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.
For more data and information about North Carolina’s COVID-19 key metrics, visit the North Carolina COVID-19 Dashboard at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit nc.gov/covid19.”