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White vans get 2nd look

October 18, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

When Pittsburgh Paints store owner Greg Wade drives his company's white, unmarked Ford Econoline van he gets stares. People sometimes ask if he has been stopped by the police.

Wade drives a van similar to one the sniper terrorizing the Washington area may be using as his getaway vehicle and has been mentioned prominently in news reports.

Wade said he has noticed how many such white vans exist since composite sketches of the van - a Ford Econoline or a Chevrolet Astro - were released by law enforcement officials earlier this week. Authorities have since said a witness' description of the Astro was inaccurate.

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"The other day I pulled up to a light and another van pulled up next to me and a white panel truck stopped behind me," he said.

A Motor Vehicles' Administration spokesperson, Anna Hoffmann, said she has been directed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies not to comment on the number of white Ford or Chevrolet vans registered in the state or county.

Don Hill, general manager of Keystone Ford in Greencastle, Pa., said he only sells white Ford Econoline vans. Other colors are ordered by special request.

He said he sells about 150 Econolines a year. He said the Ford Motor Co. sells between 50,000 and 60,000 Econolines a year.

Hill said the line of vans is popular among commercial contractors. He said businesses ranging from construction to interior decorators and even banks buy the $20,000 to $30,000 van for use in deliveries or for its cargo space.

Hill said he's not worried sales will go down as a result of the sniper attacks.

"Just because someone's out there running around shooting people in white vans doesn't mean they're going to stop using them," he said.

Walt Davis, 58, a worker for J&W Mechanical Services Inc. who drives a white Ford Econoline, said since the shootings began he's been teased by co-workers and friends about driving the van.

Steve South, 50, a worker with Antietam Cable Television, drives a white Chevrolet Astro for work.

He said he's never really thought about himself driving the same type of van the sniper may be driving, but he understands the situation and the publicity surrounding the van.

A huge dragnet was set up near Falls Church, Va., after the sniper attacked an 11th victim. Dozens of white vans were stopped and searched, according to Associated Press reports.

"I've had three people come up and ask me if they've stopped me yet," Wade said. He said his vans rarely travel farther east than Frederick, Md.

Wade said the focus on vans like his poses another kind of hazard.

"A lady in Chambersburg Tuesday almost hit me because she was staring at me so much," he said.

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