Alleged van-napper stopped here.
Injuries avoided here.
Photo by Hawes Spencer
Workers on West Main Street are used to hearing the scream of emergency sirens from the nearby fire station. But recently, even those who don't look up for a fire truck were wondering what brought police to the 300-block of West Main in two separate, eye-catching incidents.
On July 5, the Greyhound bus station was crawling with guns-drawn cops, who intercepted a stolen van from Kentucky that was being held for ransom. That's right: a van was being held for ransom.
The following week, on July 11, police and rescue vehicles surrounded Awful Arthur's when a teenage girl threatened to hurl herself from the roof of the fish house.
Jack Patterson's VP Carpet Cleaning in London, Kentucky, has contracts to clean the carpets of 80 motels. That's what Nicole Larry Roberts– that's right: that's his name– was supposed to do when he left London on June 30 in the company's specially equipped carpet-cleaning van.
Instead, Roberts allegedly called his boss on July 4 and told him that if he wanted to see his van again, he'd better wire money to Norfolk.
The funny thing was, says Detective Blaine Inman in London, Roberts never did mention a dollar amount. "He never said hundreds, thousands..."
Roberts' wife, Schernelle, allegedly called van-owner Patterson again on July 5 and directed him to wire the still undisclosed amount of money to Western Union in Charlottesville in about an hour.
London police alerted Charlottesville police at 9:10am that the alleged van-nappers were en route, and officers were ready at the bus station, where the Western Union is located.
Charlottesville Police Sergeant Marc Brake had a hunch that Roberts might be coming up Fifth Street Extended from I-64. At 9:15, Brake spotted the VP Carpet Cleaning van with Kentucky plates heading up Fifth toward the Greyhound depot.
Brake waited until the van pulled into the bus station before activating his siren. With guns drawn, the officers quickly arrested Roberts, who was charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Witnesses to the arrest were startled to see police officers with their weapons out. "A felony stop is dramatically different from a traffic stop," explains Brake. "People usually don't see felony stops, which happen more in the evening than during the day."
The van, which Patterson says would cost about $15,000 to replace, is now back in London.
Because it's specially outfitted to clean carpets, "It's basically worthless unless you're in the carpet cleaning business," says Detective Inman in Kentucky.
Inman wasn't surprised the van was recovered so quickly.
"Normally, when people are dumb enough to give up their location," he says, "it's pretty easy to call the local police and have them pick 'em up."
Nearly a week later, police were back in the same block of West Main when a teenage girl threatened to throw herself off the roof of Awful Arthur's.
The Richmond girl was in Charlottesville for a court appearance, according to city spokesman Maurice Jones.
"She ran from the courthouse after the judge gave an order," says Jones. "She ended up at Awful Arthur's, where she climbed on the roof."
Bill Murphy, Awful Arthur's general manager, says the girl climbed up some emergency stairs in front onto a roof that he estimates towers 10 feet above the ground.
When officers arrived, "she threatened to jump off," says Jones.
Police and fire personnel placed themselves around the building and attempted to open a dialogue with the troubled teen.
A fire truck ladder was raised for a police officer to climb up on the roof. "At that point," says Jones, "she began to purposefully slide down the roof at an area approximately seven feet off the ground."
Police and fire fighters caught the young woman. She was brought to the ground without incident and taken to Region Ten for evaluation.
Jones was unable to say whether charges were filed against the girl or whether her bolting from the courthouse was an escape from police custody.
Murphy estimates the standoff lasted between 30 and 40 minutes during lunch hour.
Days later, Murphy and the staff at Awful Arthur's still wonder: "Why did she pick us?"