Not only are the panhandlers at the Lynn Garden Walmart annoying, but they also help create a “cry wolf” situation that almost caused me to ignore a person who really needed my help Tuesday morning.
It’s an old scam. They come up to you in the parking lot acting like they’re having a terrible emergency and in need of help.
There’s usually some quality acting involved that would impress Stella Adler from “The Actor’s Studio,” but what they really want is your cash.
One lady alternates between the the Lynn Garden Walmart parking lot and the Stone Drive Walmart parking lot.
You’ll see her at both locations within a day or two, which can only lead one to believe either her life is filled with constant misfortune, or she’s a grifter.
Unfortunately, those experiences have depleted my trust when it comes to being approached by strangers “in need.”
Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, I was pulling into the Times News parking lot rear entrance from Truxton Drive when I heard a woman screaming, “Stop! Stop! Help me!” from behind.
I didn’t stop completely but was rolling very slowly when she slapped the back window and came up to my driver’s side door and started tugging on the door handle, screaming for help and trying to open my car door.
My first intuition was that this might be a scam. After all, we’re just a stone’s throw from the Lynn Garden Walmart.
I was on my guard, but she was screaming, “There’s a man in my car and he’s after me” and convinced me pretty quick this was legitimate.
That was not the work of “The Actor’s Studio.” That was real.
I put my car in park, told her, “You’re going to be OK” and stepped out of my car.
As it turns out, she’s just 16, and she was terrified.
A grubby looking young man was standing in the middle of Truxton Drive in front of the driveway where the girl’s car was parked. I later found out his name is Derek Sims.
The girl was hysterical and I told her to stay behind me, that this guy wasn’t going to get her, and I called 911.
Sims was walking toward us, but I told him to stay where he was and that “help was on the way.”
I didn’t say, “Police are on the way.”
Didn’t want to upset him. But he didn’t act like he wanted to run or attack anyone. He seemed very confused.
While we were waiting for police, she told me she’d been getting into her car to go to work at Food City when she caught a whiff of an odor like rotten food. That’s when she noticed this young man in her backseat where he had apparently been sleeping.
Food City has a loyal employee, because after she got me out of my car, her top priority wasn’t calling 911, but calling work to tell them she was going to be late.
Sims had no shoes. He was pacing back and forth in the middle of the road in his stocking feet, saying he didn’t mean any harm, he was just sleeping.
Some neighbors came out to see what was going on, including off-duty Hawkins County Deputy Harry Torian, who lives a couple of doors down. Harry had Sims sit on the curb beside the road until police arrived.
After a few minutes, the girl’s grandfather realized something was happening and came out. By then the Kingsport Police Department had arrived and oficers were talking to Sims and the girl.
The girl told her grandfather she might have left her car unlocked the previous night. She said she’d been unloading groceries and might have forgot to lock it.
The grandfather found one of Sims’ shoes in the car and tossed it on the ground at Sims’ feet in disgust. “G---- druggies,” he said.
As it turns out, Sims had outstanding warrants in Kingsport for theft over $1,000 and theft under $500 and in Sullivan County for probation violation. He was additionally charged Tuesday by the KPD with criminal trespassing.
Sims reportedly told police he woke up in the backseat of the vehicle and mistakenly thought that he was at the residence of a family member.
He went to jail wearing one shoe.
KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton said the incident should serve as a reminder to everyone to keep their vehicles locked.
“This incident could have easily turned out much worse than it did, and it serves as just one of numerous examples of why vehicles should always be locked anytime they are parked and unattended,” Patton said.
It was a lesson for me also. Just because a few rotten apples like to "cry wolf" to scam us out of our spare change, I should always be on alert for someone who really needs my help.