Suspicion travels with white vans

William Heath, 34, who drives a white van with a roof rack for his job, has been stopped by police seven times since Friday.

Heath works for V&L Enterprises in Fredericksburg, servicing heating and cooling systems in Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants between Fredericksburg and Baltimore. He was stopped by police five times Friday. Tuesday he was stopped once in Stafford, and Wednesday he was stopped again.

“They did tell me they were putting tags down, so I shouldn’t get stopped again,” Heath said.

He doesn’t mind the inconvenience.

“I’d rather see them catch [the sniper],” Heath said. “They just say, ‘Can we look around?'”

The first few times he was stopped, Heath said, officers opened a door and looked in. On later occasions, they actually climbed into the back of his van and opened some boxes.

Since area police released composites of a white Econoline Ford van and a white Chevy Astro mini van Tuesday, driving such vehicles has become a suspicious activity in the public eye.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell says the number of drivers like Heath who have been pulled over is an example of police dedication.

“Troopers and officers are doing all they can,” Caldwell said.

“We are receiving so many calls. Unless a vehicle is doing something particular [police can’t dispatch an officer],” Manassas City Police spokesman Sgt. Marc Woolverton said. “We receive three to four suspicious calls an hour. We’re dispatching an officer to each and every one [of the tips of suspicious behavior.]”

Caldwell, Woolverton and Prince William County Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Chinn say there is no way to know how many calls they have received, or how many tips their officers have responded to.

“[The calls] are steady all day long,” Chinn said.

“People are trying to help. That’s the key,” said Caldwell.

Both Chinn and Caldwell said their jurisdictions were taking tag numbers, but weren’t marking already checked trucks with orange stickers, as other jurisdictions have done earlier.

At ABS Van Rentals in Stafford County, employee Amber Gamble says customers now joke about renting white trucks or vans, but says the number of rentals of white vehicles hasn’t changed.

“I haven’t really seen a drop [in rentals], Gamble said, “People joke, they say ‘Don’t give me a white van,’ but they drive them if they have to.”

Local Chevrolet and Ford dealers agree that purchasing white vans is a customer joke these days, but haven’t noticed perceptible drops in sales.

“It’s a joke all over the area,” said J.R. Shafer, general sales manager for Battlefield Ford in Manassas. Still, he estimates the dealership sells 12-15 vans a month, a number that hasn’t changed perceptibly.

“It’s not really changed too much,” said Pat Martin, general sales manager of Martin Chevrolet dealer in Manassas.

Doug Dickson, the used car manager at Malloy Mitsubishi dealer in Woodbridge, said sales as a whole are “probably off about 20 percent.” Dickson attributes that to people being scared to leave their homes to shop. Of the white box trucks specifically, Dickson says sales are unaffected.

“You don’t get a lot of people buying these trucks unless they’re a company. People who buy these types of vehicles will [continue to] do so,” Dickson said, “They want white vehicles to label. I expect no effect at all.”

Dickson perfectly described Paul Allen, 49, of Bristow, who runs a wholesale food business. Allen owns a white Dodge van with a roof rack and a white Ford box truck.

“I get a lotta dirty looks,” Allen said. “Police officers came to my house [this weekend to look at my vehicles.]”

The officers left soon after they discovered the make of his van and truck didn’t match that of the composites.

Still other drivers of white vans haven’t been stopped by police at all.

“It must be our innocent faces,” laughed one pair of contractors.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.illiam Heath, 34, who drives a white van with a roof rack for his job, has been stopped by police seven times since Friday.

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