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Woman Leaps From Vehicle to Escape Carjacker

July 23, 1994|MARY F. POLS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Given the options of going for a ride with the 220-pound man stealing her car or leaping out of the moving vehicle, Debra Zellis chose the latter.

"I figured it couldn't be any worse than going with him," the 41-year-old Oxnard woman said. "I didn't know what he was going to do. He could have been planning to torture me or rape me. I thought, I'm not going anywhere with this man."

Zellis, a secretary at Mary Law Private School in Oxnard, said she was sitting in her '84 Chrysler in the school's parking lot, taking a break about 11:40 a.m. Friday, when the man approached her open window.

He asked her for directions to the mall--which she obligingly gave--then pulled out a gun and told her to move over.

"So I scooted over," Zellis said. "I was very calm. I didn't want to act mad or irritate him."

The carjacker told her not to touch anything or he would shoot her, then asked her to adjust his seat for him.

When he pulled out of the school's parking lot and headed down Albany Drive, Zellis decided to make a break for it.

Tumbling out onto the road, Zellis said she bruised and scraped her hips but otherwise was unharmed.

A fellow employee who witnessed the incident from inside the school called police, telling them someone is "stealing our secretary."

Zellis said she did not think her actions were particularly brave.

"I'm lucky," said Zellis, who described the carjacker as about 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. "Somebody was watching out for me up there."

Oxnard Police Officer Terry Burr said the carjacker had not been located Friday and that an investigation is continuing.

While there have only been about a half-dozen carjackings in Oxnard since September, two auto thefts in June heightened fears in the county of such crimes. One of the incidents involved two teen-agers who were killed in a head-on collision after stealing a car in Camarillo.

In her case, Zellis was back at work Friday afternoon.

"What do you do?" she said. "I didn't want to sit at home. I figured he might get into my house, he's got my keys."

Despite the traumatic experience of having a gun pointed at her and briefly sharing the front seat with a car thief, Zellis was quite composed.

"Didn't even break a nail," she said, waving a complete set of fingers topped with shiny pink nails.

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