Grinding gearheads: Mechanic guilty of felony conversion
GRAHAM — A jury got to hear a lot about Chevrolet short blocks, cam shafts and cracked cylinders at the first Superior Court trial of the year this week when a customer accused his mechanic of taking a rebuilt engine for his own use.
“I just feel like I never did anything wrong here, and I guess I’ll leave it to the jury to decide,” said Charles Eric Hester, who said his customer left the vehicle for almost two years.
It took the jury about six minutes Thursday morning to find Hester, 52, of 1230 Gant Road, Graham, guilty of felony conversion. Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway sentenced him to 18 months of probation and to paying $4,602 in restitution to Lester Vernard Triplett Jr. over a rebuilt 355 Chevrolet engine and 1979 Malibu that it was supposed to go into.
Triplett testified he has been an amateur racer since he was a kid and wanted to race a Malibu like his father’s.
Triplett said he'd hired Hester to rebuild this engine — one he rebuilt himself as a teenager — before in 2003, when he put it in a 1987 Chevrolet pickup he used for drag racing, and again 10 years later after it “grenaded.” All went well until he hired Hester to install the newly rebuilt engine in the 1979 Malibu for $500.
“It was cheap. It was really cheap,” Triplett said.
When he went to Hester’s garage in early 2015, Assistant District Attorney William Harrison said, Triplett found the Malibu outside with the windows open to the elements and the engine in Hester’s own truck.
Harrison told the jury Triplett called more than 10 times over the months and never heard back from the mechanic.
Hester, in his opening statement, said he never heard from Triplett, and after three months took the car out of his shop and put it in his backyard for more than a year. “He never got in touch with me at all, I never seen him, I don’t know if he was incarcerated or what,” Hester said.
There is no record of Triplett's being incarcerated, though he has faced speeding charges a number of times.
Hester said he guarantees his work, so he put the engine in a 1970 Chevrolet pickup he used as a “storage vehicle” so he could crank it up regularly to prevent corrosion.
“I never sold anything, and it never left the property,” Hester said. “I still have all of his stuff.”
When Triplett came back in 2015, Hester said, he asked for the $300 balance owed for the work and a $350 storage fee, which he did not pay.
Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at email@example.com or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.