By Jesse Wood
Last week, a female freshman at App State contacted a “beeper” through Facebook and requested a ride from the College Street Traffic Circle. When she arrived at the pickup spot, she met two males driving a U-HAUL van that featured nothing more than a mattress in the back, according to an incident report.
The young woman declined the ride and immediately called University Police. A “be on the lookout” alert was issued and the vehicle was found to still be on campus, travelling down Stadium Drive.
The responding officer conducted the traffic stop and found that the driver wasn’t a student. While this individual hadn’t done anything illegal to warrant an arrest, the officer banned the driver from campus due to the “suspicious nature” of the whole episode.
This incident highlights the unknown dangers of the beeper system. It’s well known that fraternities and sororities utilized an established beeper system as a way of curbing drunk driving. One of the brothers or sisters would be the designated driver on the weekends and carry around a pager. Partygoers would then page the driver for a ride to his or her destination.
Well, the times have changed a bit but the same service is being offered.
Today, social media is essentially the pager and anybody can be a beeper. Click to the Boone Student Beeper Facebook page and you will see dozens of folks offering beeper services and others requesting rides throughout all times of day in the Boone area. Yik Yak is another popular social media site where this activity is conducted.
Of course, peak usage times are during the snow storms when two-wheel drives won’t function in the High Country and at night when folks are more likely to have been drinking alcohol.
Scrolling through posts, some of the beepers offer free rides and seem like good Samaritans who don’t want to see folks walk through a snowstorm or don’t want to see someone drive drunk. Others use it as a way to make some extra cash.
Unlike the system utilized by brothers and sisters in the fraternities or sororities, the drivers or passengers aren’t necessarily someone you know. You don’t know if they are really offering a ride or have malicious intent.
“One of the biggest things is that you don’t know who you are getting into the car with. I feel like it’s fairly easy to get a phone that’s not very traceable and list a number, saying, ‘Hey, I’m beeping. Text or call [such and such number],” ASU Police Officer Johnny Brown said.
Brown mentioned the incident on campus last week had “suspicious written all over it.”
Brown added that you don’t know if this person has a decent driving record, has a valid drivers license or insurance. The U-HAUL for example didn’t have seat belts in the back for passengers.
“I feel like these are all concerns and I don’t see how to validate any of it,” Brown said.
Brown said that these beeper services are essentially acting as a taxi service and technically should be regulated as such with all the proper business licensing and insurance. But it’s difficult to regulate and enforce these enterprises conducted on social media.
So far and aside from the creepy-bed-in-the-back-of-the-U-HAUL-van beeper service, personnel at the ASU and Boone police departments can’t recall any crimes or serious incidents regarding beepers.
Brown and Boone Police Department spokesman Shane Robbins said that reputable organizations or “honest-to-goodness” taxi services should be used as a priority when needing a ride – not some random person with a social media account.
Both mentioned ASU Safe Ride, which offers transportation service for students from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week when school is in session. However, ASU Safe Ride is “strictly limited” to university properties.
Robbins and Brown seemed to relent the fact that folks will utilize these beeper systems despite potential concerns. Uber hasn’t made it to Boone yet and sometimes a taxi in the High Country is difficult and time consuming to track down.
It’s so easy to send a message out on social media and receive an instant reply, so both Robbins and Brown offered some safety tips:
- Travel in numbers, let others know of plans
- Arrange for pickups and drop-offs in public settings (not desolate areas)
- Use reputable sources & don’t increase possibility of danger to save a buck
- Practice good judgment and stay alert, look for red flags
Robbins added that someone shouldn’t hesitate to call law enforcement if something seems suspicious or something seems uncomfortable.
“Don’t hesitate to do that. We’ll hear that ‘Well, I didn’t want to bother anybody.’ But they aren’t bothering anybody. That’s what we are here for,” Robbins said.