Hanging On for Dear Life : Estranged Husband Took Son; She Took It Sitting Down--on Car Hood

Times Staff Writer

Hanging onto the hood of a car as it raced down the San Diego Freeway at speeds up to 80 m.p.h., Madonna Jobst-Kennedy remembers thinking: "I couldn't let go. I had to stay on the car. I just prayed I didn't lose my grip."

Police said the Torrance woman clung to the hood for a nightmarish 30-minute ride Monday afternoon when her estranged husband, cursing and screaming, grabbed their 20-month-old son, Toby, and raced off in a 1987 Chevrolet Nova. He repeatedly tried to dislodge her by slamming on the brakes, police said.

Jobst-Kennedy, 36, suffered only cuts and bruises during the incident Monday. The boy suffered a cut lip. The husband was booked on suspicion of attempted murder.

"They build us tough over there. We don't die easy," an unfazed Jobst-Kennedy, an Australian native and United Airlines flight attendant, said in an interview Tuesday.

'Grip of Steel'

"It's a miracle she wasn't hurt," said Torrance Police Sgt. Ron Brumbelow. "She must have a grip of steel--and a lot of luck."

"It amazes me even now," added Sgt. Ron Traber, nearly 24 hours after the episode.

Jobst-Kennedy told Torrance police that she and her husband, Russell Allen Jobst, 43, a retired airline pilot from Hawaii, were going through a divorce when he appeared at her Torrance home, put the child in a rented car and drove off.

Without thinking, she said, she jumped on the hood.

"If I didn't, it would be like flinging Toby into an abyss," she said.

Jobst-Kennedy hooked her feet around a side-view mirror and the forward edges of the car doors and clutched the edge of the hood near the windshield, using a large ring--"My good luck ring," she said--for additional leverage during the wild ride.

"My grip with my legs was tight," she said. "I've done some horse riding in my time, and it wasn't too much different. It was rather a wide horse."

Police said her estranged husband sped along Torrance and Crenshaw boulevards, at times driving on the wrong side of the street, before entering the San Diego Freeway, where he raced in the emergency lane next to the median at 80 m.p.h., trying to shake off his wife.

No Apparent Reason

A witness, Donald L. Heimerman, 46, of Torrance, told police that the car almost hit the freeway guard rail at 50 m.p.h. and that he saw it brake suddenly for no apparent reason.

As the car sped down the freeway, Jobst-Kennedy said, "I felt myself losing my grip. My body swayed . . . violently (toward the median).

"I had to keep my body erect because I didn't want to block his view. I didn't want him to crash. The baby was not strapped in," she said.

"I kept screaming to him, 'Go to a police station!' He kept telling me, 'I'm going to get you. You're finished.' I kept reminding him, 'The baby! The baby!' "

Jobst-Kennedy said she kept smiling so that their child would not be afraid. The baby giggled at her, she said.

"He was thinking mommy does this all the time," she said with a laugh.

Woman Amazed

Jobst-Kennedy said she was amazed at the time that the incident didn't attract more attention.

"This is Los Angeles!" she said. "Nobody seems to think this is weird."

The wild ride ended, according to a police report, after Jobst drove to a cemetery, took off the clothes he was wearing, put on a Superman T-shirt and khaki trousers and told his wife, "I'm going to finish you off Vietnam-style."

The police report said he wrestled her to ground and began trying to strangle her. Scratch marks were visible on her neck Tuesday.

He lost his grip on her throat, Jobst-Kennedy said, after she reached for her husband's groin and gave him "that old grab and twist."

Jobst kicked and punched her, got back in the car, where the child was, and said, "I'm taking Toby now," according to the police report.

The report said Jobst-Kennedy jumped back on the hood, ready for another ride. Her husband started the car again and said, "You're tired. It won't take long now."

Vehicle Disabled

Then he tried to impale her on a cactus. But he disabled the car in the process, according to police.

Officers, alerted by numerous witnesses, arrived about that time and arrested Jobst.

Jobst, en route to the police station, told the arresting officers, "I know I made a mistake today," according to the police report.

He was booked for investigation of attempted murder, cruelty to a child and child endangerment, Traber said. He is being held without bail in the Torrance Jail. An arraignment has not been scheduled.

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