Surgoinsville ZIP code snafu almost foils capture of sex crime suspect

Jeff Bobo • Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — There are a lot of reasons why Surgoinsville leaders want to change the Rogersville ZIP codes throughout the town, but they never thought getting an accused sexual predator off the streets would be one of them.

Earlier this month, authorities from Citrus County, Fla., contacted the Rogersville Police Department after receiving a tip that child porn suspect Salvatore Michael Valentino was hiding out at a Rogersville address.

Florida authorities gave the RPD an address of 353 Lauren Drive, Rogersville, where the tipster said Valentino was staying with relatives.

Surgoinsville Police Chief Jeff Hesoun said Valentino is suspected of sending nude photos of himself via e-mail to what he thought was a 13-year-old child in Vero Beach, Fla.

The recipient was actually a Florida detective. Valentino reportedly knew he was wanted by police and fled the jurisdiction to Surgoinsville.

But when the Citrus County Sheriff’s Department contacted Rogersville police, they were told there is no Lauren Drive in Rogersville.

“The Florida detectives could easily have written this off as a bad tip after that, and this suspect would still be living in our town,” Hesoun said. “It just so happened that one of the Rogersville officers had knowledge that there is a Lauren Drive inside the Surgoinsville city limits, which has a Rogersville mailing address. Our department set up surveillance of that address with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.

“He wasn’t there at first, but toward the evening he came home from shopping and was taken into custody.”

The arrest was made on Feb. 6, and Valentino was extradited back to Florida on Feb. 14.

For the past several months Surgoinsville has been attempting to switch all of the Rogersville ZIP codes within the town, and the town’s urban growth boundary, to a Surgoinsville ZIP code. Vice Mayor Tim Hoss has been heading the effort, and he has enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. David Davis.

Every Surgoinsville address west of the Hawkins County Airport, including the Regency Park and Stewarts Landing subdivisions, has a Rogersville ZIP code.

No one knows why. It’s been like that as long as anyone can remember.

In the most recent national census Surgoinsville was shorted about 400 people due to the Rogersville ZIP codes, which in turn cost the town several thousand dollars in state-shared funding. Eventually the funding problem was corrected.

But the ZIP code problem has other economic ramifications. For example, when prospective new businesses study an area’s demographics, the statistics are compiled by ZIP code.

That means Surgoinsville looks less appealing to prospective businesses because Rogersville gets credit for about a quarter of its population.

Hoss told the Times-News Wednesday that the next step in getting the ZIP codes changed is to compile a letter and request, which will be submitted to Davis and the U.S. postmaster.

The request will also include letters from Surgoinsville residents asking for the change, as well as a petition.

Hoss is asking for Surgoinsville residents who have a Rogersville mailing address to contact City Hall at 345-2213 to arrange submitting a letter asking for the ZIP code change and/or signing a petition.

“We’ve got a lot of reasons for wanting our entire city under the same ZIP code, but who would have thought that it almost let a (alleged) sexual predator slip through the cracks?” Hoss said. “But this is a prime example of the confusion that is created by such a large section of Surgoinsville having a Rogersville ZIP code. If it hadn’t been for that Rogersville officer knowing that address was in Surgoinsville, this individual would still be running around free in our town.”

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