Two incidents earlier this week involving attempts by an unmarked car to pull over motorists has brought a warning from Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton for individuals to be cautious, only stopping for those known to be law enforcement.
“No one should ever stop for a blue light unless they are confident that the person trying to pull them over is a law enforcement officer,” Thornton said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone has a cell phone these days; the best thing to do if a situation like that presents itself is to simply call 911 to determine if it is an officer behind you.”
Thornton’s warning comes on the heels of two incidents that occurred Monday night in the area of Lassiter Road outside of Newton Grove involving a person officers are calling a Blue Light Bandit.
According to Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope, the individual attempted to stop two vehicles, both driven by lone females, using what has been termed a windshield mounted strobe light.
Both women, suspicious of the vehicle attempting to stop them, refused to pull over, and a release on the incidents noted that the Blue Light Bandit’s car continued on after the victims’ pulled into the driveway of a residence.
The first incident occurred around 7:15 p.m.; the second close behind, at around 8 p.m.
The bandit’s vehicle is believed to be a dark-colored, four-door sedan, possibly a Lincoln LS with strobe lights in the upper windshield. No description of the individual driving the car was available.
Officers are urging anyone with information on the possible identity of the bandit to call the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office at 910-592-4141.
Using their head
Thornton praised both women involved in Monday’s incidents for using caution, noting that their decision not to stop could have averted some type of crime from occurring.
“Kudos go to those individuals who didn’t stop. They were very smart not to buy into it,” the sheriff said. “It’s my hope others will use them as the example. It’s just far to dangerous to stop unless you are certain it’s an officer trying to pull you over. If you’re confident you didn’t do anything wrong, the best rule of thumb it to go to a well lit or familiar area, or, better yet, make that call to 911.”
Thornton said as a general rule, officers are in contact with 911 communications before a stop is made, often running a tag number before they even use the blue light.
“If you call 911, communications will be able to tell you if that’s an officer behind you. Just don’t stop if you aren’t sure. No officer is going to give you a hard time if you drive to a well lit area before stopping. It’s what you need to do,” Thornton stressed.
Citizens who are suspicious of whether or not a vehicle is a legitimate law enforcement vehicle should turn on their hazard lights and proceed to that well-lit and populated area before stopping, the sheriff stressed in the release.
“It’s the kind of caution that is necessary in this day and time. People need to be aware. There are folks out there that are so brazen, they’ll do anything. It’s amazing and alarming,” Thornton reiterated.
While it’s been some time since Sampson has had problems with a blue light bandit, Pope said it’s only been in the last few months to a year that neighboring counties, like Harnett and Johnson, have had similar issues.
Stressing the importance of being sure before stopping, Pope recalled an incident that occurred in Sampson back in the 1980s where a man stopped a woman near Salemburg using a blue light. In that incident, the female was raped.
“It’s a tragic example of what can happen,” Pope said. “The best thing to do, whether you are a man or a woman, is not to stop for a blue light unless you are certain it’s law enforcement.”
In the case of unmarked cars, Pope said, officers are supposed to not only use the blue light, but also sound the siren. “If you don’t hear that siren, that should be the first clue there’s something suspicious. And, even if there is a siren and you feel uncomfortable, the best thing to do is what the sheriff advised — call 911 or go to a well-lit and populated area before stopping.