License plate reader technology picked up Virginia shooter’s car

State trooper describes events


License plate reader technology picked up Vester Lee Flanagan’s car after he shot and killed two TV journalists in Virginia early on Wednesday.

A license plate reader in the vehicle of Virginia State Trooper Pamela Neff picked up Flanagan’s Chevrolet on Interstate 66 at approximately 11:20 a.m. ET.

During a press conference Neff explained that the car was quickly identified after she entered its details into her license plate reader. "As soon as it was entered, it came up with a positive hit that that vehicle just passed me less than three minutes earlier," she said. "I let my dispatch know that the vehicle has passed me and I attempted to catch up with the vehicle, which was travelling eastbound on 66."

State Police initiated a traffic stop but Flanagan, who also went by the name Bryce Williams, refused to stop and a few minutes later his vehicle ran off the road and crashed. Officers approached the vehicle but found Flanagan with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m. ET.

“Technology picked it up,” explained Sgt. Rick Garletts of the Virginia State Police, during a press conference Wednesday. “Once a license plate is entered into the system, that reader will be able to identify that license plate when it passes.”

“License plate readers are a great tool,” he added. “It helped in that case to identify that vehicle.”

Garletts explained that the license plate reader is not state specific, so, after the license plate has been noticed, the trooper has to identify the vehicle to ensure that it is the one police are looking for.

License plate readers, which use image processing technology, can be mounted on police cars or roadside structures such as bridges.

A growing number of technologies are available to help law enforcement, from sticky darts that enable GPS tracking of suspects’ vehicles to high-tech LED flashlights.