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Man arrested after stealing car at Mesa gas station with child inside

Officers found the vehicle abandoned in a neighborhood with the child inside unharmed about an hour later.

MESA, Ariz. — Police in Mesa made an arrest Thursday, nearly a week after a man had stolen a running car at a gas station that had a 2-year-old child in the backseat.

Police say 24-year-old Rodrigo Garcia stole a BMW 328i that had been parked outside a QuikTrip near Broadway Road and Stapley Drive around 5:30 p.m. on March 5.

The vehicle owner told police she left her 2-year-old son in the backseat because he was sleeping and she didn't want to wake him up.

The woman also left her cell phone inside, which was able to be tracked. Approximately 30 officers from several different areas of the department scoured the surrounding area looking for the car and the child.

About an hour after the call, the vehicle was found abandoned with the child inside unharmed in a nearby neighborhood.

Officers accessed QuikTrip surveillance video and found the suspect on camera. 

Officers were able to track the woman's cell phone to the 99 Cents store on Gilbert Road and found the phone in a backpack, along with other property of the mother’s, by the entrance of the building. 

Store surveillance video showed the man who left the backpack was the same man from the QuikTrip video. 

Police traced the fingerprints and used facial recognition software to identity the suspect as Rodrigo Garcia.

On Thursday evening, an employee at the 99 Cents store called Mesa Police to say that Garcia was in the store asking about his backpack.

Officers responded and took Garcia into custody.

Police said Garcia admitted to officers that he stole the vehicle but once he saw the child, he abandoned the car in a neighborhood.

Garcia was booked into jail on felony charges of kidnapping, vehicle theft and vehicle burglary and held on a $15,000 bond.

An alarming number of cars have been stolen with children inside this year.

KidsAndCars.org, a non-profit organization that tracks the number of kids in car-related accidents, said it happened seventeen times in February alone. 

“No one expects this to happen to them, but she would’ve given anything in the world to take that back,” said Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org.

“We are seeing a pretty large number this year compared to years past."

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said in 2019, a car was stolen every half hour and 33 seconds. 

Rollins said that’s why you can never leave kids alone in cars.

“These car theft situations happen in like 30 seconds. Thieves are watching for people to leave their cars running and go inside somewhere,” said Rollins.

That mother is lucky to get her child back, but Rollins says not everyone is so fortunate.

Credit: Mesa PD



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