Police have questioned the drivers of at least 50 white vans traveling in Letcher County since a woman was nearly abducted while running alone on the Whitesburg bypass Friday evening.
The 43-year-old woman, who didn’t want to be identified by name in The Mountain Eagle, had parked near the old Whitesburg High School and had been running about three or four minutes when she saw a white van pull off the road heading toward her around 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 1. She was heading north toward Jenkins and the van was traveling south.
“My first reaction was there is no turnoff here,” said the woman. “He continued toward me.”
Then she thought maybe the van was having mechanical problems. As the van continued toward her forcing her to move closer to a guardrail, she observed the man on the passenger side reach toward the door handle.
“It was very awkward for me,” she said. “It was definitely a scary situation. I just got out of there as fast as I could before it got any worse.”
The woman, who has taken several self-defense classes, sprinted past the van and continued running toward traffic.
“The red light was out and there was a lot of traffic,” she said. “Surely people had to see this. There was so much traffic on the bypass.”
The woman continued on toward Pizza Hut, crossed the highway near McDonald’s and then headed back toward downtown. After about 40 minutes had passed since she saw the white van, the woman said she went to Whitesburg City Hall to report the incident to a police officer, but City Hall closes at 4:30 p.m. Whitesburg Police Chief Tyrone Fields said if she had called 9-1-1, an officer would have been dispatched.
The woman then went to the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department and told a dispatcher there what had happened. Later that evening, she warned others by posting about her experience on the social media website, Facebook.
“Take notice! Tonight I almost became a statistic,” she posted on Facebook. “While running on the bypass (something I do regularly and have done for years), a white delivery truck left the road and swerved to hit me! I immediately jumped out of the way.” She described the driver as an older white man in his late 50s who is bald on top, has pudgy cheeks and was wearing thin-framed glasses. She said the passenger is a white man in his mid 30s with medium to athletic build and short, dark hair that is kind of spiked on top. He was wearing a flannel shirt, the kind you would wear hunting, she said.
The woman posted on Facebook that as she jumped out of the way and saw the younger man reaching for the door handle, she realized what was happening.
“It immediately hit me that they were not trying to hit me, they were trying to snatch me,” she posted.
Although the woman didn’t get the license plate number, she described the van in detail.
“The van is an older delivery van,” she posted on Facebook. “It most closely reminds me of a floral delivery van. Rounded front on the cab and cream (off white) in color. It appeared to be a homemade paint job, as the paint had a matte finish rather than the glossy look we are used to. There were no logos or signage on it. I do not remember windows on the sides, I believe it was a sliding door.”
The woman called Kentucky State Police on Saturday and reported the incident. KSP Trooper Mike Burton’s wife had read the Facebook post Friday night and Burton had already been looking for the van.
“We’ve found a bunch of vans,” said Burton.
KSP troopers have made traffic stops on about 20 to 25 vans since Friday night, Burton said. Whitesburg officers have stopped about 30 van drivers, Fields said.
“I really feel that police are doing all they can,” the woman said.
She is an avid runner who has competed in several local 5K events and is training for four upcoming 5K events in the next few months.
“It’s something I really enjoy,” she said.
For now, the woman said she will not run outside again until this case is resolved.
“I never thought I would feel unsafe in my hometown,” she said. “We are such a small community and everybody knows everybody.”
Burton encourages people to run in pairs and be aware of surroundings.
Anyone with information about the driver and passenger of the white van, should call WPD at (606) 633-2737 or KSP at (606) 435-6069.
Another white van has been seen in the Westwood and Upper Bottom neighborhoods. Fields said the driver of that van is supposedly selling ADT security systems and he said that is also under investigation.
Fields is organizing a public forum on safety to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Whitesburg City Hall.
“I encourage people to attend and give us concerns about their neighborhoods,” said Fields. “I want to encourage people that if they have a complaint to call. If we don’t know about it, we can’t take care of it.”
Fields said he would also give holiday shopping tips during the forum.
“We want the public to know we care,” said Fields. “I don’t want complaints to go unanswered.”