PHOENIX — A young father helped police chase down and stop a suspect who allegedly distracted a man at a Phoenix grocery to steal his car. The suspect then drove off with the man's 2-year-old granddaughter.
Ernaldo Varela says he was driving home after picking up his wife from work when he saw the commotion on the side of the road and jumped out to help.
Phoenix police say 26-year-old Joe Velazquez and his girlfriend, 25-year-old Cynthia Daniella Gracia, distracted an elderly man who had momentarily stepped out of his vehicle at the Fry’s Mercado parking lot by 43rd Avenue and McDowell Road.
According to police, Gracia asked the man for money while Velazquez jumped in and took off with the man's car. The man's 2-year-old granddaughter was inside the car.
Velazquez made it a few blocks down the road where he turned into a residential neighborhood, abandoned the car and attempted to run away on foot. He was eventually pinned down by Varela.
“I instantly snapped! And you know I ran after him [the suspect]," Varela said. "When I hear he was trying to take a baby, I could not let him get away."
Varela says Velazquez pulled a knife on him.
"He swung at me a couple times, missed, finally he got my finger, that’s when I let go,” Varela said.
But officers quickly arrived and arrested Velazquez. The 2-year-old girl was found inside the car. She was not harmed, police say.
His girlfriend, Gracia, was found and arrested at a nearby home. The homeowner, whose residence Gracia was hiding at, says it was their 14-year-old granddaughter who saw Gracia trying to break in. They said their teen girl grabbed Gracia by her hair and kept her on the floor until police responded.
Varela says he’s just happy he was able to help. He says the child’s grandfather offered to buy him new shoes. The ones he was wearing were stained by the blood coming out of his finger.
He says he got seven stitches in his index finger from the suspect swinging the knife at him, but he is expected to be OK.
Both suspects are in custody facing kidnapping and aggravated assault charges.