It may take DNA testing to ID moonshiner

November 01, 1997


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Lack of dental records of a man killed on Interstate 81 early Thursday morning when his moonshine-laden pickup truck crashed and burned may force investigators to determine his identity through DNA testing, a Berkeley County Sheriff's Department spokesman said Friday.

Chief Deputy John Vanorsdale said the victim's body was undergoing an autopsy before Dr. Jack Frost, chief state medical examiner in Morgantown, W.Va., Friday. Frost could not be reached for comment.

The truck, a Ford Ranger loaded with 200 gallons of alcohol in plastic milk jugs, was northbound on I-81 around 3:43 a.m. when it ran off the road and through a grassy area for several hundred feet before hitting a tree.


Vanorsdale said it caught fire on impact. The fire ignited some of the moonshine causing a major fire, he said. The victim, who was burned beyond recognition, was lying partially out of the truck when firefighters arrived, police said.

Vanorsdale said police believe the victim came from Ferrum, Va., a small town about 20 miles south of Roanoke in southwest Virginia. He said police may have to obtain a warrant to search his home in the hopes of finding clothing the victim wore recently for use in the DNA tests.

"We'll need something he wore close to his body like a hat or underwear," Vanorsdale said.

"The family may not cooperate, but we don't want to press charges against them. We only want to identify the body," he said.

Ferrum is in Franklin County, Va. According to a spokesman in the Roanoke office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Franklin County is a known site for the manufacture of illegal alcohol. He said the moonshine is driven to Philadelphia where it is traded for drugs.

Sheriff W. Q. Overton of Franklin County said while there is illegal alcohol-making activity in the county he could not confirm any link between it and a drug connection up north.

"They make it here then run it up the (Shenandoah) Valley to sell it," he said.

Overton said Berkeley County authorities asked him to check on a county tax sticker found on the victim's pickup truck.

"We checked the sticker and we know who owns the truck, but they're all still here so it wasn't one of them," he said.

Overton declined to identify the owner of the truck.

Vanorsdale said investigators seized about 15 gallons of alcohol that wasn't burned in the fire.

He said he knows of no active moonshine running on I-81 through Berkeley County.

"There may be some, but it's not extensive. We think this stuff came from a smaller operation down there," he said.

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