When you are alone on the road late at night

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:02

LEHMAN TOWNSHIP - A little after 5 a.m. on Jan. 23, Laura O’Neill was shaken from sleep by her ringing cell phone. She has two phones on the same line, and always has one on the charger and one active, because she has two daughters who work late and a father in poor health. The caller was O’Neill’s younger daughter, Jessica O’Neill, and she was hysterical. Her daughter said she was being followed closely by another car, having left a friend’s home on the far side of the 3,200- home Saw Creek Estates development. Laura said her daughter described increasing her speed, only to be copied by the driver following. She claimed that the tailing vehicle had also flashed its headlights, as though to hail or stop her. Laura O’Neill said her daughter estimated her speed at over 50 miles per hour, on development roads where the speed limit is 25. Laura soon saw the two vehicles approach the O’Neill home. Her daughter pulled in the driveway, followed by the second vehicle, which quickly reversed and drove off. As the elder woman descended her porch steps to the drive, there was little to be seen but “I could hear the stones being thrown in my drive as his wheels spun,” she said. The second car drove off and almost immediately returned, stopping near the end of O’Neill’s block. They heard someone get out and approach in the darkness, Laura said. “My daughter was still in car and I told her to stay there. I stood there with a portable phone in my hand which, I had just discovered, does not work outside.” It wasn’t much of a weapon, she recalled. As he approached, finally the figure of a man called out “Security,” and Laura saw a uniform and badge. The security officer told her he had followed Jessica’s black Volkswagen Jetta in his unmarked Jeep Liberty because a black car had been seen at the scene of a recent BB-gun vandalism incident, Laura said. Laura O’Neill said she questioned the officer about what had happened, and told him how he had frightened her daughter. She said the man waved off her complaints and left. This incident might be an isolated occurrence or it might reflect another problem. A large and growing portion of Pike County’s population resides in gated, private communities where regular police agencies don’t patrol. But they do respond to calls in these developments and state police incident reports often reflect numerous burglaries, vandalism and traffic incidents inside the gates. One recent case of vandalized holiday ornaments took place across the street from the development security office. Saw Creek Estates Association General Manager Richard Caraluzzo had a different version of the encounter O’Neill described. He said the elder O’Neill commended the officer for doing his job when they spoke. Caraluzzo denied that there had been any high speed chase or any flashing of headlights at Jessica O’Neill’s car. “He simply followed to see where she was going,” Caraluzzo said. “Nothing happened. There’s no police report,” he said. O’Neill said she called the state police later that morning. She said the trooper she spoke to told her, ‘you need to talk to your security,’ at the development. O’Neill said she tried to talk to the manager at the security office, but the man would not speak of the incident. “He wouldn’t even tell me his name,” she said. The man, who Caraluzzo called Rich, would not comment for the Courier either. Caraluzzo said Allied Barton Security Services contracts to provide security. They provide two gate guards and two mobile guards, who routinely use marked vehicles to patrol some 42 miles of development roads. He said the officer was in an unmarked vehicle because both of the marked vehicles were out of service. Corporal Brad Beach of the Pennsylvania State Police said private security officers do have arrest powers on development property and “depending on their contract provisions,” the officer could have properly pulled the younger O’Neill’s car over while driving an unmarked vehicle. But Pike County Sheriff Phil Bueki said it is unusual to use an unmarked car for traffic stops like that, “unless it’s an emergency situation.” Bueki serves on a panel of the Northeast Security Chiefs Association which oversees private security companies. “Our department procedure would have called for a marked car to assist the officer in the unmarked car. If a motorist is ever uncertain who is stopping him, the motorist should continue to drive to a safe place which is well lit or where there are other people.” Bueki recalled a 1999 incident involving two men who donned black uniforms and gold badges, and using a magnetic revolving light, pulled over motorists in the Lackawaxen-Shohola area. Based on O’Neill’s description of the incident, Bueki said Jessica had done the right thing in not stopping. Caraluzzo insisted his officer had acted in a professional manner. He described him as an off-duty New York City policeman, who lives in the development. Detective Kevin Czartoryski of the New York City Police Department, said active city officers are not allowed to reside out of state. “I don’t know anything about that,” Caraluzzo said. O’Neill took out a newspaper ad in the Pocono Record to survey other residents’ concerns about security in Saw Creek. “I got seven responses on the first day it ran. I know I’m not the only one here with complaints,” she said.