Although a 21-year-old Sampson County man has been charged with recent attempts to stop two lone women traveling in the Newton Grove area using a blue light mounted to the dash of his vehicle, Sheriff Jimmy Thornton is urging residents to continue using caution and common sense when being pulled over.
“I am pleased that we have someone in custody,” Thornton said of the Thursday night arrest. “Hopefully this will provide a little comfort to the victims in this case. But no one should let their guard down,” he warned.
As he did earlier in the week, Thornton stressed the importance of motorists, particularly those traveling alone, taking a common sense approach to being pulled over by law enforcement. “If you suspect that someone is impersonating a law enforcement officer and attempting to stop you through the use of a blue light, you can call 911 to check whether a deputy or police officer is involved in the traffic stop. Don’t just stop, find a well-lit or populated area and then pull over, and like I said, call 911, they will usually know about any stop being made.”
His warnings sandwich two incidents that occurred Monday night in the Newton Grove area involving two different women and Thursday night’s arrest of the man officers believe to be the Blue Light Bandit.
Matthew Flores Arelleno of 5546 Mt. Olive Hwy. Newton Grove, was charged with two counts of operating a blue light and was placed in the Detention Center under a $4,000 bond. The charges are felony offenses.
Arelleno, a press release on the incident noted, turned himself in to a detective Thursday night after learning that sheriff’s officers were looking for him. He later bonded out.
According to Capt. Julian Carr, Criminal Interdiction Team members and agents with the Criminal Investigations Division had identified Arelleno as a person of interest in the case and detectives were working the areas of Lassiter and Cedar Point roads, near Newton Grove, early Thursday night in hopes of spotting him or the vehicle suspected in the crimes.
That’s when Arelleno turned himself in, reports note. Two lights were discovered inside Arelleno’s vehicle, mounted near the top of his windshield.
His arrest caps a week of investigation into the two incidents, one which occurred around 7:15 p.m. Monday night, the other following closely behind at 8 p.m. Both incidents involved attempts by an unmarked car to pull over female motorists
Both women, suspicious of the vehicle attempting to stop them, refused to pull over, and a release on the incidents noted that the Blue Light Bandit’s car continued on after the victims’ pulled into the driveway of a residence.
According to Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope, the individual who attempted the stops was using what has been termed a windshield mounted strobe light.
Thornton called the women’s actions smart and he used their approach as an example of how best to deal with attempted stops by those in unmarked cars.
“No one should ever stop for a blue light unless they are confident that the person trying to pull them over is a law enforcement officer,” Thornton said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “Everyone has a cell phone these days; the best thing to do if a situation like that presents itself is to simply call 911 to determine if it is an officer behind you.”
Thornton also said those suspicious of whether or not a vehicle is a legitimate law enforcement vehicle should turn on their hazard lights, slow down below the speed limit and proceed to a well-lit or populated area before stopping.
“Using caution is wise,” the sheriff stressed, “and it won’t get you in trouble with law enforcement.”