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Cards, drink coasters used to generate tips in cold cases
By Jeff Martin, USA TODAY

Nov. 6 will mark seven years since the horrible day when Tom Lucas' son Brian and three others were gunned down in one of South Carolina's most notorious unsolved slayings.

The shooting occurred at Superbike Motorsports, outside Spartanburg, S.C., and claimed the lives of Brian Lucas, who was store manager, owner Scott Ponder and two others: bookkeeper Beverly Guy and mechanic Chris Sherbert.

As the anniversary approaches, Tom Lucas and relatives of other murder victims and missing persons are hoping a new idea might spark fresh leads on cold cases such as theirs. They are approaching bars and restaurants to see whether management would be willing to use drink coasters with photos of crime victims printed on them, including a hotline number for people to call in tips.

For the past several years, playing cards with information about unsolved crimes have been distributed in jails and prisons nationwide in hope of generating fresh leads in cold cases.

Now, drink coasters with the same aim are being distributed to bars in Florida and South Carolina, says Dan Turner, founder of Effective Playing Cards & Promotions, which partners with law enforcement and Crime Stoppers agencies to print the cards.

"I think this could touch more people outside, in the general public," Lucas says. "My wife and I, we've been married 40 years. Our goal was, what can we do to help? Nothing is going to bring back Brian, but what can we do to help?"

Lucas helped persuade South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, and corrections officials to distribute playing cards in 2008. A $25,000 reward is being offered in the Superbike case, sheriff's investigator William Gary says.

"We've got evidence in this case, but not the right person that it points to directly," he says.

Participants in this month's Florida Association of Crime Stoppers state conference in Fort Lauderdale heard a presentation about the coaster idea from Wayne Cross, a Crime Stoppers coordinator in central Florida, Turner says.

Other victims' relatives are enthusiastic.

"I think it's a great idea," says Doug Lyall of Milton, N.Y., whose daughter Suzanne has been missing since 1998.

Suzanne Lyall, a 19-year-old University at Albany student, disappeared after leaving her off-campus job. Her case was detailed on the 10 of clubs in a deck of playing cards featuring unsolved cases distributed in New York jails in 2008.

"Restaurants and bars can be high-traffic areas, and people there like to talk," Lyall says. "Our belief is to get the word out as far and wide as you can, whether it's within the criminal element or the general population."

Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. Glenn Elwell estimates that up to 20 other states are using such playing cards in jails and prisons.

The idea behind the coasters, he says, is similar to the one behind the playing cards: to help detectives find the break they need to solve a case.

"There's a lot of information ... that goes untouched, unheard," Elwell says. "Now instead of one person knowing what happened in that case, now four know and one of them might step forward.

"You never know what could be generated from a tip or a lead."

The idea for the playing cards began in Florida in 2005, where three cases have been solved since the first set of cards were introduced in the Polk County Jail, says Florida Department of Corrections Special Agent Tommy Ray.

"We put 7,500 decks of cards in that county jail, and within six months, we had solved our first homicide," says Ray, who came up with the i