Sheriff's staffer gets a real GEM

March 03, 2003 12:00 am

By AMY LINDBLOM

It's a GEM, short for Global Electric Motorcar. And it's the latest vehicle in the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department fleet.

But even though it has flashing emergency lights and sheriff's decals, its top speed of 25 mph prevents it from chasing suspects or lead-footed drivers.

"I did hit the lights, however, when a guy yelled at me one day for going too slow," said Howard Autry, staff service analyst for the sheriff's department.

Autry's GEM — he's the only sheriff department employee allowed to drive it so far — has 30 miles on it, racked up mostly by going between the sheriff's department on Lower Sunset Drive and the county administration office on Green Street.

Yet Autry has also taken occasional trips to DMV on Morningstar Drive, the District Attorney's Office on North Washington Street and Staples in Sonora Crossroads shopping center.

The GEM can be legally driven on streets with 35 mph or lower speed limit.

"You won't find me up at The Junction. Mono Way is 45 mph," Autry said.

Autry — "like Gene without the money," as he puts it — is a number cruncher for the sheriff's department. He turns 73 today. He was hired by Sheriff Dick Rogers three years ago to prepare the department's budget, apply for and administer grant money and approve all vehicle purchases.

His job requires him to take lots of papers to the county administration building only two blocks away, but up a fairly steep hill. Autry, who has emphysema, used to walk the route or drive his car.

But the hills were hard on his lungs and the car was hard to park.

So when Autry received a flier in the mail offering a special deal from DaimlerChrysler to law enforcement agencies for a GEM, he thought it was a practical and affordable solution to his problem.

The list price for a GEM with all the optional equipment — like the one Autry drives — would cost $9,364.

But Autry got it for $3,475. It has hard doors, larger tires than the golf cart version, room for two passengers and a rear cargo area.