Is Your Ice Cream Man a Predator?

States cracking down on sex offenders working as ice cream truck operators.

May 12, 2008 — -- A growing number of communities across the USA are moving to prevent sexual predators from becoming ice cream truck drivers.

Cases in which ice cream truck drivers have been convicted of crimes against children in New York and Florida, as well as concerns about a registered sex offender selling ice cream in California have prompted some state and local governments to consider banning criminals from selling ice cream or at least requiring background checks before licenses are issued.

In California, where a convicted sex offender was found to be driving an ice cream truck in the city of Perris last summer, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance Tuesday aimed at stopping them from driving ice cream trucks, said David Zook, a spokesman for Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

In Massachusetts, a bill that would bar sex offenders from operating ice cream trucks is under consideration in the Legislature. The idea stemmed from a New York state law that passed in 2005, said Michael Lawlor, an aide to Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Knapik.

In Rapid City, S.D., an ordinance requiring criminal background checks for ice cream vendors is under review by the city attorney's office, Alderwoman Deb Hadcock said.

Efforts to keep predators out of ice cream trucks gained momentum in 2004, when Eduardo Grau of Troy, N.Y., 56, was arrested after police said he offered rides in his ice cream truck to children and abused a 9-year-old girl.

The case spurred the 2005 New York state law. Grau eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse in 2006, according to District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis. Since then, cities including San Antonio and Tucson have passed similar measures. New York appears to have the only statewide restriction, said Sarah Hammond of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Florida Assistant State Attorney Harmon Massey prosecuted a 2005 case involving the driver of an ice cream truck who was eventually convicted of battery against a teenager.

Massey said Florida should consider an ice cream vendor law. "Can you think of a better kid magnet, if you were a sex offender?"

Amanda Burnham of Perris, Calif., said that for a sex offender, "there are a bazillion things you could do for a living that don't involve children. It just seems like a very, very odd choice."

Burnham learned last summer that a man who drove an ice cream truck down her street is a registered sex offender. She and her neighbors put notices "on every single house" to warn residents, she said. The effort helped inspire the proposal in San Bernardino County.

Such laws can go too far, said Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas.

"If you're throwing everyone in the same bucket, you're really restricting these people who have paid their debt to society to go on and be productive citizens," Ring said.

Martin reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.