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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Local Review

Suspect Seized in Kidnapping; Girl Found Safe

May 04, 1999

VAN NUYS — A man wanted for allegedly kidnapping a 5-year-old Van Nuys girl was arrested Monday morning after the van he was driving was spotted by a couple who recognized the vehicle from news reports. They reported it to authorities on their cellular phone and then followed the van until California Highway Patrol units arrived.

According to the CHP, the arrest of Raul Rodriguez in Fresno County and the safe return of Joanna Lopez might never have happened if not for the efforts of Michael and Colleena McHugh, who were driving to their Bay Area home on Interstate 5 Sunday after a weekend visit to Los Angeles.

After spotting the van about 9 p.m., Colleena McHugh called the CHP on a cellular phone and the dispatcher asked the couple to continue following the van until CHP units could take over. The couple kept the van in sight for about 40 miles as it proceeded northbound on Interstate 5. About 10 p.m., CHP officers began a pursuit of Rodriguez, who led them on a high-speed chase, according to the CHP. Officers eventually stopped Rodriguez by using a spike strip laid out across the northbound freeway lanes to puncture the van's tires.

For nearly three hours, CHP units and Fresno County sheriff's deputies engaged in a tense standoff with Rodriguez about 50 miles south of Fresno, according to the CHP. Rodriguez was finally cajoled into surrendering by a Spanish-speaking officer.

The 5-year-old was taken to University Hospital in Fresno for observation, officials said. She was then released and reunited with her mother.

Rodriguez, 36, is being held in Los Angeles. He was booked on suspicion of kidnapping, evading arrest and child endangerment, according to a Los Angeles police spokesman.

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