Waterford - A suspect was arrested and a family was reunited a little over an hour after a man allegedly stole a vehicle with a 3-year-old boy in the back seat.
Police say Rey E. Torres, 38, stole the green four-door Ford Explorer from 93 State Pier Road in New London around 4 p.m. When he realized there was a child in the car, Torres drove to the Waterford Walmart, where he let the young boy out, told him to go into the store, then ran from the scene, New London Police Chief Margaret Ackley said in a statement Thursday night. Temperatures hovered around freezing at the time and snow flurries fell from the sky.
The boy, identified as Elijah by a friend who asked not to be identified, was reunited with his mother, Natasha Samuel, after Walmart employees called police when they saw the unattended child wandering the parking lot.
Police officers, including K-9 units, from Groton, New London and Waterford responded and surrounded the empty Explorer, parked in row 7 near the Home & Living entrance of the store.
Police then tracked and arrested Torres, of 3 Spithead Road, Unit 1, Waterford, at the intersection of Route 1 and Cross Road, Ackley said, which is about one mile from the Walmart.
Torres was charged with third-degree larceny, risk of injury to a minor, first-degree unlawful restraint and second-degree criminal trespass in connection with the incident.
The witness said he is a friend of Samuel and was at 93 State Pier Road - a New London apartment complex near Interstate 95 - when the car was stolen. Samuel had started the car, the witness said, and walked over to check her mailbox mere feet away. Out of nowhere came a man who jumped into the car and took off, the witness said. Several other people also were in the area, he said.
"It was crazy. It was like a movie," the witness said. "I thought it was a joke. I thought she knew the person because no one's going to go in front of you and take your car like that."
The witness said Samuel chased after the car and yelled "come back" before becoming hysterical and calling police.
When police found the car, the witness said, he gave Samuel a ride to the Walmart, where the mother and child reunited.
They then went into the Walmart security area to review surveillance video tape, which allegedly shows the car pull up and Torres jump out and usher Elijah toward the store entrance before running away.
Torres was in custody 80 minutes after the alleged car theft.
Curious shoppers looked on at the heavy police presence surrounding the green Explorer. Police officers took photos, interviewed witnesses and reviewed video tapes as others tracked down Torres.
New London police had alerted other agencies immediately after the alleged theft to be on the lookout for the stolen vehicle.
Court records show Torres was convicted of first-degree burglary in Willimantic in 2003 and sentenced to 5½ years in prison.
Torres is held on $100,000 bond and will appear at the New London GA 10 court today.