CBP officers foil getaway, nab kidnapper headed for Mexico
CBP officers ended a terrorizing 30-minute ride for two children trapped in their vehicle that was stolen while parked for just minutes at a San Diego shopping plaza. A 7-year old girl and her 3-year-old brother waited in their idling car shortly after noon, April 9, while their father went into a store for a quick purchase.
That’s when a woman bouncing a basketball nearby approached the car, peered inside, and then jumped in and sped away, according to a witness.
As the vehicle zoomed off, the witness honked his horn and alerted the father, 41-year-old Rodney Cole, who was now outside the store. Cole chased the fleeing car on foot along a busy boulevard, but the driver ran a light and got away, leaving Cole in the middle of the street. “I almost caught the car, but she started driving erratically,” he told a reporter.
Cole called San Diego police, but it was his daughter’s bravery to dial 911 on her cell phone, even after threats from the driver not to call police, that helped authorities find the gold sedan.
Concluding the car was headed for the border because Cole’s daughter reported seeing highway signs that said Mexico, San Diego police alerted the San Ysidro port, said Shalene Thomas, Office of Field Operations supervisory officer at the San Diego Field Office. A special CBP anti-terrorism contraband enforcement team was deployed to the southbound lane of I-5 to look for the vehicle. “They set up a checkpoint to slow traffic,” she said.
They soon spotted the car. As the team approached, the driver tried to get away but became trapped in traffic. CBP officers arrested 26-year-old Leslie Saenz for kidnapping, auto theft and possession of stolen property and turned her over to San Diego police who held Saenz at a women’s detention facility.
By midafternoon, the children were reunited with their father and released along with their vehicle.
“This is a harrowing situation for any parent and terrifying for the children involved,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for the San Diego Field Office. “We appreciate our partnership with the San Diego Police Department for getting us this information so our officers could react quickly and stop the car and driver before they made it any further. It may be a part of the job, but being able to help safely reunite these children with their father is especially rewarding.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.