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Suspicious activity has some Lodi parents concerned

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Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 12:00 am

Nobody knows why a middle-aged man pulled his car in front of P.J. Vaz’s Lodi home and asked his 11-year-old son if his parents were home. But the tale has frightened some local parents.

After dark, at around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, a red or maroon sedan passed Vaz’s home on the 1100 block of Interlaken Drive while his son was playing baseball in the driveway.

Vaz and his other son left the house to take their dog on a quick walk around the block.

Within minutes, the car returned.

A bald, white man wearing a gray shirt, roughly 40 years old, stopped in front of the home and rolled down the car window, on video captured by Vaz’s home surveillance system.

According to Vaz’s son, the man signaled to him and said, “Hey, come here.”

The boy took a couple of cautious steps toward the vehicle before the man asked, “Is your mom or dad home?”

Without hesitation, the boy turned around, ran inside the house, locked the door and closed the garage — just as Vaz had taught his son.

The driver put his car in reverse for a few feet and eerily stopped in a spot where he could see the front door. He sat there for more than a minute before turning around and driving away.

Soon Vaz returned and heard all about the ordeal.

“He came out of the house and was absolutely hysterical — shaking and crying,” Vaz said. “He’s very tough, but he was very traumatized. I’ve never seen my kid like that. This guy was up to no good.”

Vaz believes that the man — possibly driving a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic — was trying to abduct his son.

Vaz has alerted the Lodi Police Department, who have reviewed the surveillance video and are investigating the incident.

Lodi police say the incident is peculiar and call it “suspicious,” but they’re not ready to classify it as an attempted child abduction, Lodi Police Lt. Sierra Brucia said.

“While we’re not identifying the incident as an attempted kidnapping right now, we are certainly taking it very seriously,” Brucia said.

Lodi Police Lt. David Griffin said that based on the information received from Vaz and his home surveillance system, the unknown man did not commit any crime, and he is urging parents not to draw conclusions until more information is available.

“We’re all jumping to the worst-case scenario, and this guy might have had a legitimate reason for being there and wanting to talk to the parents,” Griffin said. “It’s just someone asking, ‘Hey, is your mom or dad here?’ That in itself is not a crime, and he never made any attempt to go after the child.”

However, Vaz says that in light of the incident, he and many other parents in his neighborhood and around town won’t let their children play outside after dark.

“Every day he’s out there playing baseball,” Vaz said. “But he won’t be out there anymore.”

Police are taking all available steps to identify and locate the unknown man.

They’re reviewing the video and hoping to obtain the vehicle’s license plate number. If officers are able to secure that information, Griffin said they plan to speak with the registered owner of the vehicle and learn his intentions.

Griffin added it’s always important for parents to remind their children about the dangers posed by strangers.

“They shouldn’t get in a car with a stranger,” he said. “They shouldn’t accept anything from strangers. They shouldn’t answer the door to their house if nobody else is home and it’s a stranger at the door.”

Parents can visit Lodi News-Sentinel Learning Link Coordinator Cyndi Carter’s blog, “Education Cafe,” for additional tips for teaching children about stranger awareness.

Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the Lodi Police Department at 209-333-6727 or Lodi Crime Stoppers at 209-369-2746.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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