Lufkin was in the national spotlight before the start of the July 4 holiday weekend. And once again, our community’s portrayal was less-than-flattering.
A video that went viral shows a young woman opening and licking a container of Blue Bell Tin Roof ice cream and then putting it back in the freezer. The incident, which happened June 28, initially was believed to have happened in a San Antonio-area Walmart, but a display case matching the one in the video couldn’t be found.
The search moved to Houston Walmart stores after investigators learned the woman may be living with a boyfriend in that area, but again, a matching display case couldn’t be found.
It wasn’t until after Blue Bell Creameries told its division managers to attempt to identify the store that the issue hit home in Lufkin.
Blue Bell contacted Lufkin police to say they believed the video was taken in Lufkin’s Walmart and that they had retrieved what they believed to be the tainted container of ice cream.
Detectives quickly obtained surveillance video of a woman matching the suspect’s description and worked over the holiday to solve the case. And roughly 48 hours later, they had. Their investigation was complicated by multiple ‘‘catfish’’ incidents, with women who had similar screen names or appearances taking credit for the incident on social media.
Those ‘‘catfishers’’ lost interest in the social media ‘‘glory’’ when they realized how serious the issue was. Tampering with any consumer product offered for sale to or for consumption by the public is a second-degree felony in Texas. Wading through those false claims wasted authorities’ valuable time in their search for the real offender. While online impersonation is a criminal offense, it’s a shame these individuals can’t also be charged for tying up authorities’ resources.
As for the actual woman in the video, she was identified as a minor from San Antonio, which means police cannot release her name or information, LPD public relations specialist Jessica Pebsworth said. She is tied to Lufkin through her boyfriend’s family.
“Because she is a juvenile offender, her identity is protected under section 58.104 of the Texas Family Code,” Pebsworth said. “The case will be turned over to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.”
“Texas Monthly” identified “the one true licker as a 17-year-old girl” and said “the culprit has finally been caught by police in Lufkin (where else?).” Unfortunately, in the rush to tell a story that vilifies Lufkin residents, the national media got the story wrong. The girl is, in fact, a minor. She’s not 17.
In a copycat incident, the Assumption Parish (Louisiana) Sheriff’s Office charged Lenise Martin III, 36, with criminal mischief and unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity. He remains in jail at this time.
In a later release, Pebsworth said LPD spoke with the girl’s boyfriend, an adult, and said both the girl and her boyfriend, who filmed the incident, were forthcoming with what had occurred and admitted to the incident.
LPD doesn’t intend to pursue charges against the juvenile as an adult, which means whatever happens to her is at the discretion of the juvenile justice system, according to Pebsworth. Police are discussing the boyfriend’s involvement with prosecutors before pursuing charges, Pebsworth added.
Both should be punished, and it should be something more than probation or a slap on the wrist. Again, anything less burnishes that less-than-flattering portrayal of our community to the nation.
But Blue Bell shares some of the blame, too, especially following the 2015 listeria outbreak that killed three people. Blue Bell took corrective action inside their facilities in the wake of that tragedy. Nobody died, but this incident, potentially, is just as serious.
The Chicago Tylenol Murders were a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982. The victims all had taken Tylenol capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. Seven people died in the original poisonings, with several more deaths in subsequent copycat crimes.Those incidents led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws.
Blue Bell should follow the example set then by Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol’s parent company, and take action to prevent tampering with their products after they have left the ‘‘little creamery in Brenham.’’