When most people think of a crime scene, they think of a street or the interior of a building or home. Rarely, however, do people think of a car as a crime scene. But we do. That’s because we clean our share of them.
Automobiles are involved in bank robberies, drive by shootings, and burglaries; they are the tools used in kidnappings, rapes, murders, and the site of domestic violence. An auto can the weapon that ends a life when a motorist decides their right to anger is greater than another right to life; they can be the tragic element in an accident that leaves a family without a mother, a woman without a husband, or a parent without a child, and every year in the US, approximately 38,000 vehicles are carjacked (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics – Crime Brief).
A Suburban Family
Merilee and her husband Matt followed all the rules. They were the kind of parents who did everything right. After they conducted extensive research, they bought car seats for their 18-month-old son Taylor and the daughter they were expecting in two months. Both car seats had the highest safety rating in the industry. Matt had already secured their unborn daughter’s car seat into the back seat of Merilee’s SUV, which also had the highest safety rating of any car in its class, so that they would be totally prepared when the time came.
Merilee never left her son unattended in her car. She deliberately parked next to shopping-cart stalls so that after she buckled her son in, she would not have to leave him, even for 10 seconds, to return the empty cart.
She also was in the habit of filling her car with gas when Matt was home and could accompany her or stay home with Taylor. When she did fill up alone, she never left the car unlocked. She always removed the keys and then locked the doors while she pumped the gas.
A Normal Day for a Carjacking
Today, the car was almost three-quarters of a tank down and Matt was out of town on business. Another one of their rules was that you never let your car drop below half a tank. She had several errands to run and decided not to chance running out of gas. It was wicked hot, so while she was filling the car, she opened the door to check on Taylor and let some fresh air into the car.
An instant later, she felt a gun planted firmly into the small of her back and a vice-like grip on her left arm. “Get the [expletive] in the car or I’ll drop you right here,” a male voice whispered.
Merilee did exactly what he said and opened the front passenger door, struggling to get in while maneuvering her pregnant belly. The man impatiently shoved her hard across the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat, making Marilee’s belly collide with the steering wheel; then climbing into the passenger seat next to her.
As Marilee paused to groan at the pain and protectively hold her belly, the man ground out through clenched teeth, “Drive, [expletive]”, pointing a gun at her side.
Merilee, in pain and shaking uncontrollably, managed to start the car and began to pull out of the station, hearing the gas pump pull out of the tank and fall to the ground. Thankfully, it had already shut off.
With her eyes watering from the pain and fear, Marilee narrowly missed being hit by a passing car as she pulled onto the road, causing the other motorist to blast their horn at her as they went past.
Taylor, who had been dozing, woke and began whimpering as their carjacker brutally shoved the barrel of the gun hard into the side of Marilee’s pregnant belly, making her wince in pain. “Pull anything like that again and you’ll never meet this baby”, he snarled at her.
“Please!” Merilee begged. “Take the car! Just let me and my son out!” The man only looked at her and smiled coldly, seeming to enjoy her fear, and calmly replied, “Shut up and drive.”
Merilee complied and merged into traffic without further incident. After a few moments of silence, she tentatively asked, “Where do you want me to go?” The carjacker and -Marilee realized with a shiver – now their kidnapper, was watching her intently. He moved the gun from her belly, tracing it over her chest until it came to rest under her neck and, while leaning so close to her ear that his lips nearly touched it, he whispered, “I’ll tell you what to do and when. You just do everything I tell you to and you’ll be fine. Got it?” Swallowing, Marilee quickly nodded.
Taylor continued to whimper in the back seat and, leaning back into his seat and returning the gun to her belly, the man said, “The first thing you can do is make him shut up.”
Marilee, careful to speak cheerfully, glanced into the rearview mirror and said, “It’s okay, honey, we’ll be home soon.” She reached to switch on the stereo, telling the carjacker it would calm Taylor.
In the Grip of Fear
As the minutes passed and the man gave her no directions, she desperately tried to remember everything she’d been told about what to do in a situation like this. The man’s calm demeanor scared her. He was deliberate and calculated. He obviously had a plan and she couldn’t help but wonder how she and Taylor fit into it.
She was still trembling and it was hard to focus. All she could seem to remember was how to avoid getting in this situation; not how to get out of it.
“Turn left at the next intersection”, the man said, breaking her train of thought. She noticed they were into a much less populated area now, with trees lining both sides of the road and suppressed a shudder as she realized how bad this looked for them.
The fear she had managed to push down slightly now crawled its way back up, making a tight ball in her chest as she slowed and made the turn onto the smaller road.
Taking a deep breath, she glanced over at the man, who was looking straight ahead now. “We are away from the city now. You can just leave us here, take the car and be long gone before anyone else comes.”
The man turned slowly to look at her, “Why would I do that when I already have the car… and you?”
His tone, and the look in his eyes gave Marilee a chill. A minute or two passed, during which she tried to think of what to do. If she crashed the car on purpose, she and Taylor would both be more likely to get hurt than this man, who looked like he could take a few knocks and keep going. Remembering his threat at the gas station, she decided not to risk it, sure he would kill them out of anger.
A Glimpse of Hope
Catching sight of a state trooper parked ahead, apparently waiting for speeders, her hands tightened on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the carjacker saw him at the same time and, jamming his gun into her bruised belly again, he growled, “Don’t even think about it.” With nowhere to turn off, he leaned over to check her speed and said, “Keep it there and don’t do anything stupid.”
Trembling again and gripping the steering wheel so hard her knuckles paled, she did as he said, watching her momentary hope slip away as they passed the trooper and he made no move to follow them.
Barely a mile down the straight road, the man was beginning to relax again when Marilee hit some debris in the road and a tire blew. She struggled to control the heavy vehicle as she swerved across the oncoming lane and then over-corrected, driving them into the ditch several yards off the road and stopping hard, her belly hitting the steering wheel again and bringing tears to her eyes.
“You [expletive],” the man screamed at her, slamming the side of the gun into her face. Her head hit the driver’s side window hard, and her vision clouded; dimly, she thought she heard a gunshot.
Not knowing whether she had passed out or not, Marilee’s eyes focused slowly and she could hear Taylor screaming in the back seat. Her mother’s instinct fighting to clear her head, she tried to turn to look at him, but couldn’t seem to move quickly enough. The next thing she heard was sirens approaching; then she lost consciousness.
The state trooper reported seeing the accident and radioing for help as he rushed to the location, catching sight of the man running into the woods just as he pulled up.
Marilee was in and out of consciousness, her face and upper body covered in blood, it wasn’t until the trooper opened the door that he saw the blood covering the seat also.
The carjacker had shot Marilee in the chest before escaping and her belly’s impact with the steering wheel had caused her to start hemorrhaging. She was losing a lot of blood and the trooper applied pressure to her chest while looking back at Taylor, who hadn’t stopped crying. He appeared to be shocked and probably had whiplash, but his mother needed the trooper’s full attention.
“Ma’am?” The trooper called, “Can you hear me? Help is on the way.”
Although Marilee doesn’t remember it now, the trooper testified she mumbled Taylor’s name and asked if her baby was okay in her brief bouts of consciousness. Soon, EMT’s arrived and took over, whisking Marilee into the ambulance and working furiously to save her and her unborn baby. Taylor was quickly examined to determine if it was safe to move him and was carried to accompany his mother to the hospital.
Apparently, they were only a few miles from the next town, where they later discovered the carjacker was expecting to meet his accomplice.
As the investigators looked into the crime, they uncovered an extremely violent history for both men, with convictions for assault, theft, rape and an outstanding warrant for attempted murder between the two of them.
Both men were caught 2 days later, when a gas station attendant reported men acting suspiciously, hanging around cars at the pump and trying doors.
Marilee spent the next 2 weeks in the hospital after undergoing two emergency surgeries, one to deliver her daughter and the other for the gunshot wound.
Sadly, Marilee’s daughter lived only a few hours, the combined trauma of the accident and her early delivery proving too much for her little body to handle.
With Marilee in surgery and her husband, Matt not yet arrived from his last minute flight back to town, the hospital left the baby’s name blank on the birth record. Matt arrived just in time to say good bye and write in the name they had picked out for her, Sarah Anne. Still in surgery, Marilee never got to meet her little one.
Thankfully, apart from some neck strain and shock, Taylor was fine. His top rated car seat had done its job and he was quickly back to his happy, energetic self.
Not wanting Marilee to miss the funeral, Matt had Sarah Anne cremated so that Marilee would be able to attend after leaving the hospital. Today, her birth record hangs on their wall, the tiny imprint of her feet and a Polaroid a touching addition by a thoughtful nurse.
The man who had carjacked Marilee and her son was charged with murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and carjacking. He was convicted on all counts.
Carjacking is a common crime, and the perpetrator is usually interested only in the car. However, perpetrators sometimes force their victims to go with them so that victims can’t call the police. They often don’t know or don’t care that a child may be in the car they are stealing.
Be Aware, Don’t Become a Carjacking Statistic
- The most common carjacking ploys are
- The Bump – A car bumps you from behind, assuming you will get out to inspect the damage, at which point the carjacker forces you back into your car or steals your keys. On the expressway, you reduce your chances of becoming a “Bump” victim by driving in the center lane.
- The Good Samaritan – The carjacker stages an accident with “injured” people, or pretends his vehicle is broken down, and then carjacks the Good Samaritan who stops to help.
- Flashing – The carjacker will flash their lights or otherwise indicate that there is something wrong with the victim’s car; then carjack the car when they stop to see what it is.
- Carjacking occurs most often when the victim is entering or exiting the vehicle.
- Carjacking occurs most often on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
- Favorite areas for carjacking are
- Parking lots
- Shopping areas
- City streets, especially at stop signs and red lights
- Residential driveways
- Gas stations
Protect Yourself from a Carjacking Incident
- Never drive with your doors unlocked.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times, especially when you are stopped or idling in heavy traffic.
- Always carry a cell phone and make sure it is charged.
- Park your car in well-lit, busy areas, never in areas that are dark or are obscured by shrubbery or trees.
- Never leave your keys in your car if you exit the car. Lock the car and take the keys.
- As you approach your vehicle, look around, under, and inside it, especially in the back seat.
- Approach your car with the key in your hand. Don’t stand at your car and fumble for keys.
- Never load packages with your back turned.
- If you are holding your keys when someone tries to carjack you, throw them as far as you can if someone orders you to open your car door.
- Lock your doors as soon as you enter the car.
- Never wait at residential security gates. Call ahead to get the gate opened or wait in the street for the gate to open.
- Keep the car filled to no less than one-half tank.
- Don’t leave valuables on the seats where they can attract potential carjackers.
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