The long-running saga of a derelict, burned out and artistically vandalized van that became a landmark on the side of a South Whidbey road is over.
After some delay, the owner finally arranged for the burned and brightly painted Chrysler van to be towed to recycling. Island County code enforcement, however, has initiated an investigation because of the number of junk vehicles on the property at the northwest corner of Deer Lake Road and Wintergreen Drive in Clinton.
The van’s owner, Elisabeta Poggi-Blethen, is reluctant to talk about all the details. She confirms official reports that a front wheel fell off the van when she was driving on Highway 525 at Coles Road late last year.
Lt. Darren Crownover with the Island County Sheriff’s Office investigated and tagged the vehicle for towing. The owner later arranged to move the van to a grassy corner of her otherwise heavily wooded property.
“After somebody reported the van was involved in an accident at that (corner) location, I asked the owner if the vehicle could be moved to prevent further accident reports. I don’t believe the owner ever moved the van,” Crownover said.
Poggi-Blethen said she put a notice in a private online community group, offering the vehicle free to anyone who would take it.
“It was running fine, but then people started stealing things from it,” she said. “I started getting mean-spirited, derogatory comments online.”
Crownover said someone apparently set fire to the van late at night in mid-February. South Whidbey Fire/EMS sent two engine trucks and a medic, putting out the blaze and clearing the scene in less than an hour.
“I suspect arson, but can’t prove it,” said Fire Deputy Operations Chief Terry Ney. The fire crew put caution ribbon around the vehicle.
Some time after the fire, the van was painted in bright colors with a floral motif.
Crownover said because the vehicle was on private property, it was no longer a concern for the Sheriff’s Office.
“There have been some calls, but really, it’s a non-issue for us,” he said.
The Planning Department’s Code Enforcement Office took a different view.
“The owner was sent a Notice of Violation and was asked to remove the vehicle,” Enforcement Officer Mike Beech said. “That has taken some time because the (ownership) paperwork was burned in the fire and lack of owner’s funding to have (the vehicle) towed.”
The longer the junked automobile remained visible from the two main roads, the more people started to comment. Trash began to accumulate, apparently left by vandals or tossed from passing cars.
Poggi-Blethen said she had been trying to get rid of the unattractive junk van. She said she was the victim of misfortune, trespassing, theft, arson, vandalism and flagrant disregard for private property. The area is clearly and prominently posted against trespassing.
For an undetermined time, the wrecked, burned and colorful van became a curiosity, ad hoc landmark and unattractive nuisance. With the van gone, the vegetation has already started to reclaim its territory.
Beech said the county code does not specifically cover how things look from the road. There are, however, provisions dealing with the storage of junk vehicles on private property. The county requires a complaint to be filed before any action is taken on an enforcement matter.