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Reports involving suspicious red truck investigated, cleared

Jacksonville police say child fabricated story

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigations have been cleared on reports of a suspicious man in a red truck. In two of the reports, authorities said the man tried to lure children in two counties, but Jacksonville police later said the child in their case fabricated the story, and St. Johns County deputies said those were not the man's intentions.

A Jacksonville girl told police Tuesday morning that she was approached by a man at her bus stop at Merrill and Hartsfield roads in Arlington. Police said Thursday she made the story up.

The St. Johns County Sheriffs Office said a man (pictured, below) tried to lure a boy into his truck (bed of truck pictured below) Monday night in the Plantation Grove subdivision, asking the boy to direct him around the neighborhood.

Deputies said the boy didn't do it, so the man drove away.

"A young boy under the age of 12 was walking his dog Monday evening before 8 o'clock," St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Kelshaw said. "A gentleman in a red pickup truck asked him to get in and show him how to get out of the subdivision. The boy pointed in the direction of how to get out and the subject left."

Detectives said they identified and interviewed the man after receiving several tips about his identity. They said the man also saw the news stories and contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to be interviewed by a St. Johns County detective Thursday.

The man told detectives he was in the area for a prospective job estimate and became lost in the neighborhood. He then saw a young boy, whom he asked for directions. The man told detectives he did call the boy over to ask for direction, but he never asked him to get into his truck.

Detectives said they also identified and spoke with independent witnesses who confirmed the driver's reason for being in the neighborhood. They said the quick actions of those in the community to identify the man, as
well as witnesses assisted in closing the investigation and to confirm there were no bad intentions.

In the second instance, now determined to be not true, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said a red truck was also used to try to lure a girl standing at her school bus stop. According to the incident report, the girl said she was approached by a man near the Walmart on Merrill Road.

The child's mother said her daughter called her at work while frantically running away from the man.

"She was screaming and crying, saying that someone almost got her," Jennifer Luty said. "And I said, 'Run as fast as you can. Get home.'"

In a third instance, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said a patrol officer was dispatched at 4:04 p.m. Tuesday to the intersection of Hartsfield and Merrill roads in reference to a suspicious person in a red pickup truck.

Witnesses told the officer that the driver was a white man in an extended cab with a black trailer containing lawn equipment. Authorities said the vehicle appeared to have a Florida license plate and may have tinted windows.

JSO said the man was possibly in his mid-30s with blond hair, and wore a black T-shirt.

While investigators are not linking this occurrence to any other reported incidents, at this time police said they are asking that anybody with information about the suspect at the intersection to call the JSO's Sex Crimes Unit at 904-630-0500, or through Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.

St. Johns County deputies said they're looking for a middle-aged white man who may be driving a newer model red Ford F-150 pickup truck. They said he may be balding and has facial hair, possibly a goatee.

Investigators are working to verify the information in each reported incident and determine if any crimes have actually been committed, JSO said.

"Be aware, teach your kids," Luty said. "They need to know stuff like this happens. It's not pretend. It's real."

Channel 4 crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson echoes that advice. He believes both incidents may be linked.

Jefferson urges parents to remind their children about stranger danger and report the information quickly to a responsible adult.

"Give as much information as you possibly can about the person that stopped them and tried to lure them into the vehicle; the color of the vehicle, whether it's a car or a truck," he said. "And give as much about the description of the person they talked to as they possibly can."

Investigators say they will be working with other local law enforcement agencies to see if there are any other similar cases.

Anyone with information in the Jacksonville case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS. Anyone with information in the St. Johns County case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 888-277-TIPS.