America is a society that moves on four wheels, and that includes people who travel outside of the law.

From Bonnie and Clyde to drug dealers in tricked-out dream machines, the car has opened up a whole new lane of investigation for authorities gearing up to bring criminals to justice.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, that lane routes itself to West Virginia University as officials debut a newforensic garagewhere students enrolled in the schools popular forensic and investigative science courses learn the intricacies of lifting evidence from cars involved in everything from kidnapping to DUI cases.

Cars are involved in a whole host of cases,said Dr. Clifton Bishop, a biologist by training who directs WVU s Forensic and Investigative Sciences program.Were talking about hit-and-run fatalities, bank robberies, abductionsthere are a lot of clues to be found on four wheels.

“The official event will be from 4-5:30 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting and remarks from WVU officials. The day will also include tours of the facility the chance to watch WVU forensic students gathering evidence for a class assignment.”

The garage is located next to the programs twocrime scenehouses on WVU s Evansdale campus, where many of the 400 students enrolled in forensic classes study the aftermath of violent acts. Some of those crime scene scenarios have them studying blood spatters; others examining DNA material and other evidence.

Two such houses, with the new addition of the garage, make for prime real estate in a program thats quickly garnering an international reputation, Max Houck said. Houck is a former FBI investigator who now heads WVU s Forensic Science Initiative, which operates in tandem with the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program.

To my knowledge, no other forensic program in the U.S., and certainly not Europe, has a complex of facilities like ours,Houck said.The garage, in particular, gives a real-world investigative experience for our students. Its as hands-on as it can possibly be.

Michael Bell has had a whole career of hands-on experience, working as a forensic chemist and crime scene investigator for the New Mexico State Police, before relocating to West Virginiaand coming out of retirementto sign on with WVU s forensic program.

This is a great and promising program,said Bell, who oversees operations at the crime scene houses.

You couldnt ask for better students or instructors,he said.We have modern facilities here. Its really a privilege to be part of it all.

WVU s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is the home of the forensic program, and the Initiative is housed in the WVU Research Corp.

The Initiative was created by funds secured by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the states senior lawmaker on Capitol Hill. Monies are administered through the National Institute of Justice.

Byrd, meanwhile, is also working to direct an additional $1.25 million in other federal monies to help in the renovation of Oglebay Hall, which will be used to house both forensic programs in one central location on the downtown campus.

The additional money for the $10 million project would come from the Fiscal Year 2005 Veterans Administration, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies bill.

WVU this month will also assume the library holdings of the worlds largest and oldest forensic science organization, the International Association for Identification (IAI).

The IAI chose WVU on the strength of its forensic program. This is the first time the organization has ever loaned its books and papers to an outside organization. The holdings date back a hundred years.