Article published April 5, 2010
Spartanburg CrimeStoppers hopes Web will help nab criminalsBy LEE G. HEALY
A community-led crime watch group is pulling out all the stops when it comes to unsolved cases.
CrimeStoppers Spartanburg is not only promoting its second-edition deck of playing cards featuring unsolved homicides and missing persons, but a new Web site that promises tipsters complete anonymity.
The group is now able to seek help from non-English speaking members of the community with its Web presence at www.spartanburg.crimestoppersweb.com. Online forms have been translated into Spanish and French, and instructions for leaving an anonymous tip printed in Spanish are being distributed to area businesses.
"This software really allows us to meet our goals. Citizens can leave tips without fear, without retaliation," said Tom Lucas, president of CrimeStoppers Spartanburg. "This is an anonymous, civilian-based program, and now we have a way for Hispanics to give a tip."
Lucas said CrimeStoppers leaders firmly believe Hispanic residents have information pertaining to crimes but are afraid to contact law enforcement or struggle with a language barrier.
The new Web site, Lucas said, breaks down barriers. It allows any person with pertinent information to fill out an online form in their language of origin without having to talk to law enforcement officials or leave their name.
Forms are available under the "Submit a Tip" tab on the new Web site. Once a tip is submitted, a tip number is given that allows the individual to follow up on his or her tip to find out whether an arrest has been made. CrimeStoppers offers rewards up to $2,000 for tips leading to a break in the case.
The process is the same as for CrimeStoppers' more established phone-in tip system at 888-CRIMESC or *49 inside South Carolina detention centers.
Spartanburg Sheriff's Office Sgt. George Balderrama, who is fluent in Spanish and often called on to interpret, said Hispanic community members aren't usually any more reluctant to offer help than the general population, but trust can be an issue.
Communication, he said, is key.
"Their main thing is the communication barrier," Balderrama said. "When they can't communicate what they're trying to get across to somebody, they either don't do it or it becomes too much of a hassle."
The new card deck features 44 new unsolved cases and a few from the first-edition deck.
Sheriff's Office Master Deputy Craig Bradley said the playing cards will soon be in the hands of thousands of inmates.
"The potential for information coming in from this source that may solve some of these cases is tremendous," said Bradley, a member of the CrimeStoppers board.
Scott Ponder, Beverly Guy, Chris Sherbert and Tom Lucas' son Brian Lucas are featured on the queen of clubs card that gives information on the 2003 Superbike Motor Sports quadruple homicide in Chesnee.
Lucas explained that the new Web site and new playing card decks are ways to keep cases like his son's fresh in the minds of people who may be able to help law enforcement bring closure to the case.
"I don't like to use the term 'cold case,' " Lucas said. "Until I'm dead, my son's case won't be cold."
Decks also are available for purchase for $1.45 each by e-mailing Lucas at email@example.com.