Tony Neal, the captain of Cal State Fullerton's basketball team, Tuesday said he believed he was going to be killed by a man who allegedly abducted and robbed him at gunpoint near his Santa Ana home Saturday evening.
"I was most definitely sure I was going to die . . . I was terrified," Neal said in a media conference at the office of his longtime friend, attorney Ray Alvarado of Orange. "I didn't try to escape.
"After he instructed me to stop (in Santa Fe Springs) and the guy said he was going to 'spare me,' I was thrilled to death."
Neal, 21, said he initially believed the man just wanted a ride, but after the suspect revealed a handgun and threatened to kill him, he became "hysterical" throughout the 40-minute ordeal.
"I was so afraid," Neal said. "I did exactly what he said."
Neal, a 6-foot 6-inch senior forward, said he was en route to Fullerton's Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game against Cal State Long Beach when the abduction occurred. An unidentified man forced his way into Neal's car at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Ross Street in Santa Ana, about four blocks from his home.
The suspect asked for Neal's wallet and took $15 from it, and then instructed him to drive to various locations throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Eventually, Neal was told to drive to the 10100 block of Flallon Ave. in Santa Fe Springs, where the suspect took his car keys, threw them in the bushes and then fled on foot. Neal was not hurt during the incident.
Neal said the suspect, described by police as a 5-7, 160-pound Latino about 23 years old, was looking through his wallet as he drove. The suspect discovered a business card with Alvarado's name on it, then directed Neal to drive to a gas station where he was ordered to phone Alvarado.
"We stopped on the way and he told me to call these people (Alavardo) and tell them I was going to die," Neal said. "I was getting hysterical by this time and wanted this guy just to stop and take my car and let me out. He instructed me to call and I talked to Ray's wife on the telephone and I was pretty hysterical and I said, 'This guy's getting ready to kill me,' and when I told Barbara he was going to kill me, he knocked the phone out of my hand and we got back on the freeway."
Neal said when he was finally released on Flallon Ave., he ran up to a nearby house, explained his situation. But when the residents refused to let him in, Neal asked them to call Alvarado for him. Shortly thereafter, Neal was allowed to make the call himself.
"I called them (Alvarado) first because I had spoken with his wife, and I knew she wanted to know what was going on since I was so hysterical," Neal said. "So, I really wanted to let her know I was OK and that everything was fine."
Alvarado said Neal retraced the incident with Santa Ana police Tuesday morning. Neal said the suspect directed him to drive west on the Riverside Freeway, and then ordered him to exit at Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton, where he reportedly made the first phone call to Alvarado. Neal said told police he returned to the freeway and drove to Flallon Ave.
Neal's decision to talk publicly ended three days of conflicting reports and speculation about his abduction.
"I was not hiding anything," Neal said. "I was just trying to concentrate on the (Fresno State) game, which was coming up."
Alvarado said that Santa Ana police had told him and Neal on Tuesday that there had been several other similar abductions in the area.
"I was told along with my associates by the investigator, which we found startling, that this is not a single incident that took place, that over the last couple of weeks there have been at least five similar abductions of individuals and residents out of the Santa Ana area," Alvarado said. "This certainly is something, as the investigators have told us, which is beginning to rise as an increasing problem. In our opinion, this was a random abduction."
Lt. Mike Mitchell of the Santa Ana police denied that there had been a series of similar incidences in the area.
"I'm sure there may have been similar incidences, but there has no been wave as he said," Mitchell said. "In fact, we've heard of no other incidences in the last couple of weeks other than that one."
Neal and Alvarado declined to comment on Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reports that the man who identified himself as Neal on Saturday night was 5-foot 10-inches, not 6-6. Santa Ana police Sgt. John McClain said he believes that the height discrepancy was nothing more than a clerical error.