A vehicle for fighting crime

Published May 22, 2007

They've tried big billboards, Web sites, flyers and even playing cards.

Now Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County is trying something new: advertising its unsolved crimes on a mobile billboard, a large truck that circulates through the county with the ads on its side.

The first two cases to debut in this program are the killing of Gary Noordhoek in 1996 and the fatal carjacking of Tim Chanthavong in 1999. Their faces look out from the side of a big yellow truck, along with the basic facts of their slayings.

Noordhoek was fatally shot in an efficiency apartment at a friend's warehouse near Seminole. Detectives have said that the 38-year-old real estate agent and businessman was involved in several business conflicts and a broken romance. But there are no named suspects in the case.

Chanthavong, a 22-year-old mortgage loan officer, was killed in St. Petersburg by someone who wanted his red Acura NSX sports car. The vehicle, which was Chanthavong's love, was recovered after a 15-minute joyride.

"There really has not been a whole lot of leads that have come about in this case over the years," said St. Petersburg police Detective Mike Kovacsev.

Crime Stoppers was approached with the advertising plan by Darin Phillips, co-owner of and driver for Bay Area Billboards, a company that he and his wife started six months ago.

"We can get into areas that a big billboard just can't get to," Phillips said. "It gets so much more attention."

Phillips charges $1,000 per month for the advertising space, though he is donating the space to Crime Stoppers. The truck makes an eight-hour circuit from New Port Richey to St. Petersburg every day, spending much of the time on U.S. 19.

Advertisements on the sides of the truck change every seven seconds and the Crime Stoppers ad rotates with ads for submarine sandwiches, a local bar and a magazine.

For the victims' families, the mobile billboard is a welcome innovation, but it can also be a painful reminder.

Sompong Chanthavong broke down in tears when she saw her son's picture Monday on the side of the truck.

"I hope someday they bring that person to justice," she said. "Right now, I feel so bad because they killed my son and got to go free."

Anyone with information about the slayings is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County toll-free at 1-800-873-8477.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.