Sheriff Keith Merritt gave an update on his department’s newest acquisition when commissioners met Monday. 

The “Deuce and a Half” – called so by the military because it weighs two-and-a-half tons – will be used to evacuate residents or pets from, or truck supplies into, areas affected by high water. 

It was transported from San Antonio over the weekend.

The vehicle, valued around $40,000, cost nothing to Orange County and was discovered on one of several Internet sites available to peace officers.

“Everything in military surplus is available to law enforcement agencies first,” Merritt said. “Anything not accepted or taken by law enforcement is put up for auction.”

Capt. Clint Hodgkinson, the sheriff’s operations chief, and his staff will help maintain and operate the vehicle, which can haul 18 to 20 residents (or pets) from high-water areas. 

The department has also been approved for a second transport, Merritt said. “These can be made available to any agency in Orange County – not just the sheriff’s department.

“What brought this about was obviously our experiences during Ike. With the Bridge City area and the Cove area, there were some areas in the county we couldn’t get to with the vehicles we had.” A Deuce and a Half can easily navigate through three to four feet of standing water. Merritt rode in plenty of them as a member of an Army Airborne unit.

“It enables us to be able to get into certain neighborhoods if we ever have a situation like that again,” he said. “It could just be an eight- or nine-inch-rain in a short period of time. A lot of neighborhoods flood and sometimes residents can’t get in or out. With this vehicle we can get them in or out or bring them some kind of supplies … We’ll be putting on decals to identify it so people will know it’s with Orange County and not the military.”

The vehicle was used by the National Guard in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.

In other business Monday, commissioners thanks Frey’s Landscaping for its work with a tree at the courthouse in memory of Justin Hahn, late son of District Judge Buddie Hahn. Friends and family donated money to have the tree planted after Justin Hahn died in February, 2007.

“It was dying and had a lot of problems,” County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said. “It got soaked from saltwater and we were just about ready to ‘put it down.’” 

Mark Frey and his staff surveyed the tree, gave advice on its care and donated mulch for the area. Justin Hahn was 37 and living in the Austin area when he passed away. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and Lamar University and was the owner and president of Benefit Solutions, Homeland Contractors and Hahn Investments.

Also Monday, commissioners approved paying the month’s bill for about $172, 663, with $21,200 going to Beck Disaster Recovery for debris services connected with Ike; and they renewed Orange County’s local homestead exemption (20 percent) and exemption for senior citizens over 65. 

Thibodeaux said the state Legislature recently passed a property exemption bill for disabled veterans. The bill is awaiting action from the governor.