Wednesday, July 1, 2015

‘She looked like a nice girl, and she needed some help’

We got a heads up from our friends at Truckers Against Trafficking last week about how a trucker helped get a juvenile runaway back where she belonged. We talked with the trucker, who’s also an OOIDA member, and with the local law enforcement agency, who had some good advice to pass on. As always, if you witness someone or something pertaining to domestic sex trafficking, Make The Call. Save Lives.

OOIDA Member Bill Underwood was doing his logbook and pre-trip inspection early Thursday morning, June 25, at a truck stop in Jackson, Miss., when a young woman approached him and asked for a ride to Louisiana.

“She had no ID with her, no bags, she told me her car was being towed and I did see a tow truck with a car behind it, so that part of the story I could believe a little bit,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “But I was not going to leave this young lady in the middle of this damn truck stop parking lot.”

An owner/operator and owner of Underwood Farms in Alta Vista, Kan., Underwood is 72 years old and the father of eight children, including three daughters. He said the girl told him she was trying to get to her family at Lake Charles in southern Louisiana, but Underwood’s route only took him across the northern portion of the state. He agreed to take her as far as the TA Truck Stop at Greenwood, La., at Exit 5 off I-20.

“I know the people at that TA,” he said. “They’re trustworthy people, and they’d be able to help her. If everything was OK, we’d be able to get her a bus ticket to Lake Charles or wherever she wants to go.”

Once he got to the TA, Underwood said he talked to the general manager of the truck stop, who agreed to call the police to see if they could assist with her safe return home. Once the cops arrived, they soon found out that young woman was, in fact, a girl only 14 years old.

Her age was not the only thing she’d lied about, either. She also lied about her missing ID and her car being towed. In reality, she had absconded from a youth detention center in Mississippi, about five miles from where she first met Underwood. He said instead of going to Lake Charles, the police took the girl back to the juvenile facility.

“The chief of police came over to me and shook my hand and told me he was very happy that this young lady was able to get into a truck that no one was going to harm her, and get her back to where she needed to be,” he said. “She’s not a violent criminal, she just had some stuff she needed to work through.”

Greenwood Police Chief Shane Gibson said he could not provide details about how the girl managed to leave the facility, but he did confirm Underwood’s account.

Gibson also said that if a driver finds himself in a position like Underwood’s, the most important thing to do is call the authorities.

“It’s very important,” he said. “I’d suggest stopping and calling the authorities immediately, as opposed to picking them up and taking them several hours down the road.”

For his part, Underwood says he would’ve called police immediately if the situation had been different, or if he thought the girl had been in immediate danger. The only distress she seemed to be under was being upset her car was being towed, but that was “a fabrication.”

“Other than that, she was clean-cut, she did not look like she’d been harmed, which if she did, I would’ve called police right there,” he said. “She looked like a nice girl, and she needed some help.

“I have children of my own, and I’ve heard so many stories, and I will not and have not in the 53 years I’ve been on the road, turn my back on an individual that needed help, particularly a young lady,” he said. “There’s too many kidnappings and too much stuff that happens on the highway. I would not, and I could not turn my back on this girl.”