'Originals' writer debunks fake story behind 'Vampire Diaries' stars 'fun' mugshots

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No, the ‘Vampire Diaries’ cast didn’t get arrested for flashing people on a bridge

And it's not the first time the other side of the story has been told.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 28, 2023   Updated on Aug 28, 2023, 1:50 pm CDT

A widely shared set of mugshots featuring several cast members of the long-running series The Vampire Diaries went viral, leading to plenty of jokes about the photos themselves and a writer for that franchise to push back against the story behind those photos.

On Saturday, Twitter user @notgwendalupe—who shares posts about anniversaries and highlights life-changing pieces of pop culture to more than 250,000 followers—posted a photo of Nina Dobrev, Kayla Ewell, Sara Canning, and Candice Accola (who now goes by Candice King) from when they were in The Vampire Diaries, a CW supernatural teen drama that ran from 2009 to 2017. It wasn’t a cast photo, nor was it acknowledging some anniversary.

Rather, the post was centered around mugshots of the four actresses and an arrest, which @notgwendalupe says happened 14 years ago on Aug. 26.

“14 years ago today, the cast of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ got arrested for flashing drivers and hanging from a bridge,” the account wrote.

The photo, which stitched the four mugshots together, paints a picture. All four actresses are smiling to some degree (Ewell and King give the biggest grins of the quartet), and Canning appears to have her left hand positioned on her hip.

It’s certainly not the first time the image has gone viral: A @PopCulture2000s tweet with the mugshots from August 2022 focused on the quartet’s expressions, noting, “they look so unconcerned 😭.”

If you try to look up more information about those mugshots, there are several news articles from August and September 2009—shortly before and right after the series premiered on the CW—detailing the arrest of Dobrev, Ewell, Canning, Accola, Krystal Vayda (another actor who wasn’t on Vampire Diaries), and photographer Tyler Shields. According to articles written at the time and a police report of the arrest, several motorists called the police about seeing people hanging from the Rumble Road Bridge and that they were “flashing motorists on I-75 Northbound.”

The tweet had several factors going for it for it to go as viral as it did. The post was phrased matter-of-factly and similarly to other pop culture-centric aggregation Twitter accounts like Pop Crave and Pop Base posts. It featured an anniversary in the post (and a random one at that). There were no links involved in the tweet, which works in its favor and helps further spread the information that many people who shared it didn’t bother to fact-check. It features several actors from a long-running CW drama, which can simultaneously make it feel niche (because the CW is a much smaller network compared to other broadcast and cable networks and streamers) and a huge hit (the original show ran for eight seasons and sparked several spinoffs). Plus, with the many mugshots of Donald Trump and his alleged conspirators coming out of Georgia over the past few days, there’s been an even greater focus on mugshots lately. 

The initial reaction mostly boiled down to “good for her” as people found plenty to be amused by with the series of mugshots.

However, apart from the arrest taking place, very little of the widely shared story appears to be true.

For one, according to the police report, the arrest happened in Monroe County, Georgia, on Aug. 22, 2009, not the 26th, as the viral tweet indicated. In the report itself, the police officers mentioned going to the scene and viewing several photographs Shields took. None of them feature photos of the actors flashing drivers, nor does the report indicate the type of flashing the drivers mentioned.

“The male (later identified as) Tyler Shields informed us that they were taking pictures for a TV show that airs in September,” the report reads. “Deputy Morgan checked their cameras, and discovered numerous photographs of the female hanging, sitting, and straddling the bridge. One photograph even showed one female being held by her legs by the other females, as if they were trying to throw her over.”

Shields and the five women were charged not for flashing motorists on the highway. The official charge was for disorderly conduct. Bail was $500 a person, which Shields covered.

A few weeks after the arrest, Ewell publicly denied that she and the other actresses had flashed motorists and had no idea why motorists told police they had; she noted that she and her castmates “are not the type of girls who flash our breasts.” Ewell was also annoyed at the time that the story had taken attention away from The Vampire Diariesrecord-setting series premiere ratings.

“They were like, ‘We’re getting calls that people are flashing,’” Ewell told Entertainment Weekly in September 2009. “And we’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. The only thing that’s flashing is our camera.’”

By October 2009, a judge dismissed the case after all defendants failed to appear in court and forfeited their bond.

But Carina Adly MacKenzie, who’s written on Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals (and also wrote about the case’s dismissal at the time), further debunked the story, noting that the “flashing” from the report had nothing to do with the actresses lifting their shirts.

“It maybe wasn’t SUPER safe, but they weren’t maniacs,” MacKenzie said. “Nina & Sara had JUST gotten their work visas to do TVD in the US. They were very aware that breaking laws could get them literally deported.”

While some may have appreciated the clarification, others lightly grumbled at the debunking ruining the “more fun” story; “they still served in the mugshots so it doesn’t matter,” one person commented.

But it’s not even the first time the story’s been debunked. Dobrev, Ewell, and King also discussed the arrest in a June 2019 episode of Directionally Challenged with Candice King and Kayla Ewell (which Ewell now hosts solo), where the trio debunked the prevailing story around the 2009 arrest, which they described as “getting fake-arrested together.” According to the discussion, which detailed a road trip and photos being taken by King’s boyfriend at the time, there was never a case number; all they had to do was pay a fine, and they could leave. They also highlighted how young they had been at the time and how they followed orders from the police so they wouldn’t get into more trouble.

The discussion starts around the 46-minute mark.

“They released the thing and made it into this stink, but we never got arrested—but they made it seem like we got arrested,” Dobrev said. “And I still think, to this day, that it was a publicity stunt, and they wanted to get attention from it. And they made us look bad, even though we didn’t do anything.”

They also pointed to when the photos were released—just hours before the show’s premiere—as another reason why releasing their mugshot was part of a stunt. Fortunately, the show’s writers seemed thrilled by the timing, telling King back then that “this is the best PR that we could ask for.”

They can laugh about it now, but at the time, Dobrev was also worried about her and Canning getting fired because of the arrest and deported to Canada because they were in the U.S. on work visas for The Vampire Diaries.

It’s a story that’s somewhat on the lighter side, but it’s a microcosm of a larger issue around relying solely on police reports to relay a series of events. The initial story gets a lot of headlines (especially if the people involved are famous to some extent), while follow-ups get lesser coverage. For something like the arrest, details like the calls purporting that The Vampire Diaries actors flashing people on a bridge become an urban legend, with debunks—like the ones issued by MacKenzie or the discussion had by Dobrev, Ewell, and King—get even less attention. Not even a PopCrave debunking can compete with the virality of the original post.

And if the frequency that The Vampire Diaries mugshot photos are posted on Twitter or other platforms is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before it goes viral again.

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*First Published: Aug 28, 2023, 1:49 pm CDT