Recent sightings of a Campus Cruiser-like vehicle have prompted USC’s Department of Public Safety to warn students to look out for unmarked and unauthorized minivans similar in style and color to Campus Cruisers.
On two separate occasions, a van offering free rides to female students has been spotted near campus. Because of the van’s color and style, DPS is concerned students may confuse it for a Campus Cruiser vehicle.
“There is a possibility that it is an unapproved, unauthorized taxi service trying to make money, but our concern is that their intent is something much more serious,” said DPS Capt. David Carlisle.
On Monday, DPS released an informational bulletin to students about the two incidents, despite the fact that no actual offense had been committed.
“As soon as it appeared that there may be additional suspicious circumstances we decided that we needed to get the information out to the student body,” Carlisle said.
Campus Cruiser is the only university-affiliated service authorized to pick up students who request rides.
The program now notifies students when their car has arrived at the designated site, creating additional safety and precaution measures for students.
The unmarked van was first spotted on Aug. 21 at 4:30 p.m., when it was reported to be driving along the 1000-1300 block of
W. 29th Street offering rides, Carlisle said.
“The people that were operating the van were offering the rides to females. They had followed one female for a block or so, trying to entice her into the van, saying that they were a new university free ride service,” Carlisle said.
The complainant described the driver in the first incident as having long dark hair, sunglasses and a black beanie-type hat. Both the driver and passenger were described as male Hispanics from the initial report and DPS camera footage.
DPS video surveillance captured the alleged vehicle, which DPS says is a gold minivan with custom black and chrome rims and dual sliding doors, possibly a Dodge Caravan.
Another van — likely the same vehicle — appeared near campus again this past weekend.
Carlisle said a similar metallic tan or bronze colored van was spotted on 28th Street near University Avenue early morning on Sept. 6. The report filed by the student describes the occupants of the van as light-skinned males, possibly Hispanic and wearing black short-sleeved shirts. At
2:25 a.m., the student report reveals that the van occupants offered a free ride to a female.
“A similar van to that was observed Saturday night along The Row,” Carlisle said. “We had another incident where a suspicious van was reported that was white, that was seen in the North University Park area, but we’re not sure if that’s connected.”
About a half-hour later, a USC Community Service Officer spotted a van matching the description given by students at 28th and Hoover streets. The officer recorded the vehicle’s license plate, but the plate was traced back to a different van.
“Officers were unable to catch up with the van to try to detain it,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said the license plate might have been recorded incorrectly. It is unlikely that the van is using stolen plates, he said.
DPS ran variations on the recorded license plate, but has not made any progress in locating the specific vehicle. The DPS and LAPD investigation is still underway.
Students said they were concerned after reading the bulletin from DPS.
Alexis Nichols, a senior majoring in communication, said she was scared by the DPS notification.
“I’m glad to be aware of that kind of thing,” she said.
Nichols added that it is important for students to receive DPS emails and to be notified of potential safety issues around the USC campus.
Tiffany Schallert, a senior majoring in Russian, said, “It was clearly very upsetting … I hope it was just upperclassmen that were getting the offers because they would know that Campus Cruiser doesn’t do that.”
Carlisle noted that only Campus Cruiser vehicles are authorized to give free rides to USC students, and all Cruiser vehicles are clearly marked.
Carlisle urges anyone with information regarding the vehicle or its occupants to contact DPS at (213) 740-6000. If any students come into contact with a suspicious vehicle offering free rides to students should call DPS immediately at (213) 740-4321.