'Things aren't right': Inspector's instincts led to arrest of vampire-fanatic trucker accused of keeping a sex slave
MOORHEAD - One of the thousands of trucks inspected at the Red River Weigh Station this year was a nondescript 18-wheeler driven by a bald, middle-aged man named Timothy Vafeades.
A 19-year-old woman was traveling with him. The pair had been hauling freight through various states for six months, but it wasn’t until they stopped at a Moorhead weigh station on Interstate 94 that authorities learned Vafeades was allegedly holding the woman captive as a sex slave.
Inspectors at the weigh station checked Vafeades’ driver’s license, a step mandated by federal regulations, and realized a protection order barred him from being with the young woman, who is a relative of his.
After more investigation, the woman revealed the extent of the abuse, both physical and sexual, court documents stated. Vafeades was subsequently booked on charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and domestic abuse.
The case underscores the benefits of weigh stations beyond keeping overloaded rigs and sleepy truckers off the road, but it also raises the question of how Vafeades and the woman managed to crisscross the country undetected for so long.
Sgt. Duane Amundson, a Minnesota State Patrol official who oversees the Red River Weigh Station, said Vafeades had been recently subjected to safety inspections two or three times in other states, but he does not know exactly what those inspectors encountered.
“They may have not even seen the girl in the truck,” he said. “It’s hard to pass judgment on another agency when you don’t know what the circumstances were when they were doing the inspection.”
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason why Vafeades was not arrested sooner, what is clear is that, nationwide, the numbers of truck weigh-ins and inspections have lately been trending downward, trucking experts say.
When it comes to weigh-ins and inspections, there’s no uniformity to how states operate, though typically weigh stations try to be open during the day on weekdays when there’s the greatest amount of truck traffic, said Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for American Trucking Associations.
“They’re open as much as their budget allows, but in a lot of cases, they can’t be open 24/7,” he said.
In a number of states, thin resources have led to shortages of staff and created challenges for agencies that enforce trucking regulations, said Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
To dodge the multimillion-dollar cost of building a bricks-and-mortar weigh station, he said, some jurisdictions have established virtual weigh stations that use weigh-in-motion scales and cameras.
Amundson said Minnesota has not closed any weigh stations or cut hours, but he has seen the size of his staff shrink.
“We’re trying to still stay open as many hours as we have in the past, but the staffing levels aren’t what they were before,” he said. “Less staffing means less inspections.”
A compulsory part of every inspection at weigh stations around the country is a driver’s license check, which can show suspensions and revocations as well as warrants and protection orders.
“We find lots of warrants where, you know, it’s felony theft or something like that,” Amundson said.
But the bizarre case of Vafeades, a 53-year-old trucker from Salt Lake City, is unlike anything Amundson has ever encountered in his 17 years of experience.
An off feeling
The evening of Nov. 26, Vafeades and the young woman pulled into the weigh station after a scale showed that the weight of his load was enough that he needed to stop for an inspection.
The two climbed out of the truck and stepped into the station so Vafeades’ logbook and other paperwork could be reviewed. As inspectors did their work, Vafeades jabbered in the background.
“He was one of these people that talks a lot to distract you,” said Cindy Harms, a commercial vehicle inspector who dealt with Vafeades.
As he chattered, Harms could see that his teeth had the appearance of vampire fangs. The young woman, meanwhile, stood quietly by the counter, avoiding eye contact. When inspectors asked her questions, Vafeades answered them for her.
The whole situation did not sit well with Harms.
“I don’t know if it was motherly instinct or womanly instinct,” she said. “You just get this feeling.”
Inspector Chad Olschlager, who was working with Harms, remembered her saying to him that, “Things aren’t right.”
“I thought the same thing,” Olschlager said. “Something was not quite there.”
At Harms urging, Olschlager took a second look at Vafeades’ record, and Olschlager saw that the trucker had a lifetime protection order against him. The order, issued in Florida in 1999, prohibited him from having contact with the woman. The reason for that order is still unclear to local authorities.
In light of the protection order, officers arrested Vafeades, and the woman was taken to a local shelter, court documents said.
Even though the woman’s future is uncertain, the outcome that day pleased Harms and Olschlager.
“I’m so glad she doesn’t have to be in the truck with him anymore,” Harms said.
Investigators with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department interviewed the woman and learned that her ordeal started after she made contact with Vafeades, who had last seen her when she was a girl, in the hope of building a relationship with him, court documents stated.
In May, she left her home in Florida and went to Salt Lake City, expecting to help with his trucking business. But once she arrived, he began sexually abusing her and forced her to ride in his semi, court documents said.
She told investigators that every two to three days, he made her give him a full-body massage and have sex with him. At truck stops, Vafeades required her to hold his hand and would become angry if he thought she had made eye contact with others, so angry that he sometimes hit her after they returned to the semi, court documents stated.
Harms and Olschlager said they did not see it, but, according to court documents, investigators noticed that the woman had a black eye.
The woman alleged Vafeades’ controlling behavior reached the point that he filed down some of her teeth with a power tool and made her wear dentures over her real teeth, which he thought looked crooked. She told investigators he had several pairs of dentures for himself that he kept in the truck, including a set with two front teeth sharpened into vampire fangs.
She claimed Vafeades was obsessed with vampires, so much that he named his trucking company, Twilight Express Trucking, a nod to the series of vampire novels, according to court documents.
On Thursday, Vafeades was still in custody at the Clay County Jail. His bail is $500,000 with conditions and $1 million without. His next court hearing is set for Dec. 23.
His attorney, public defender Joseph Parise, declined to comment on the case week.
Vafeades’ criminal history shows numerous convictions related to domestic abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, he was convicted of domestic abuse assault in July 2012.
In 2006, UPI wire service reported that Chilean authorities were deporting Vafeades because he was wanted in the U.S. and elsewhere on charges of sexual abuse and falsification of documents. Vafeades arrived in Chile in March 2004 and was working as an English professor in Santiago, according to UPI.
Archie Ingersoll, INFORUM