Littering Investigation Leads To Vanilla Extract DUI Arrest

By Paul Gaita 05/12/17

A Pennsylvania woman stands accused of driving under the influence of vanilla extract and illegally discarding the bottles.

A pile of litter featuring empty containers of vanilla extract.
The empty vanilla extract bottles were thrown out on the side of the road. Photo via YouTube

For the past half-decade, residents in Adams Township, Pennsylvania, have been puzzled by the presence of numerous empty vanilla extract bottles left along Myoma Road. Police suspected that teenagers were the culprits, but an investigation revealed that 61-year-old Mary Ranker, from the nearby town of Cranberry, was the responsible party.

Per the Food and Drug Administration, vanilla extract has an alcohol content of no less than 35%. The recovering alcoholic, who had been purchasing the extract at local supermarkets and abandoning the empty two-ounce bottles by the side of the road, was charged with driving under the influence and littering.

The mystery, as it were, began five years ago, when city workers began finding bags full of empty vanilla extract discarded along Myoma and Carriage Hill roads. Greg Betant, who lives in the area, spoke to the police about the trash, but mostly took it upon himself to clean up the mess. "The most I picked up at one time was 110," he recalled. Police finally decided to put an end to the littering by mounting trail cameras at various locations near the two roads.

It took very little time to catch Ranker in the act. "In the same day, we got pictures of the subject throwing litter out," said Adams Township assistant chief Robert Scanlon. The pictures provided police with images of her vehicle, a maroon 2004 Honda CR-V, and its license plate—which in turn, gave them Ranker's name. She was observed driving later that day near Myoma Road and was pulled over by police sergeant Edward Lenz, who told her that he had stopped her in regard to the littering investigation. 

Noting a smell of alcohol coming from the vehicle and that Ranker appeared impaired, Lenz administered a field sobriety test. Her blood alcohol content of .128 as well as the discovery of five two-ounce vanilla bottles in her car, led to her arrest. Pennsylvania state law deems .08 as intoxicated. Ranker later told police that she felt more comfortable buying the vanilla extract at the Giant Eagle supermarket chain than going to liquor stores.

Residents were surprised to hear that an adult had been responsible for the years of littering. "I thought kids that could not buy alcohol [did that], I didn’t think a 61-year-old woman [would]," said Betant. "That's amazing."

Following a preliminary hearing on May 9th, District Judge Wayne Seibel ordered Ranker held for trial. She has a summary trial on two littering citations on May 17th before her DUI trial in June. Ranker's attorney declined comment on the allegations.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.