A good Samaritan who helped fix a man's broken-down car near downtown Los Angeles and then offered the penniless motorist and the 12-year-old girl with him his home for the night ended up turning the man in after realizing that he could be a wanted kidnapper.
California Highway Patrol officers arrested Marcelino Benites, 44, late Friday night at the East Los Angeles home of the Samaritan, a tow-truck driver who wants to remain anonymous, after a 17-hour Amber Alert that was issued early that morning.
Benites was booked on charges of kidnapping and possible child molestation. The girl was evaluated at a local hospital and will be reunited with her foster family in Northern California.
The tow-truck driver first spotted the two and the stranded Datsun late Thursday night. He stopped, offered help and eventually towed the car to East Los Angeles. Because the two said they had no money, the man let them stay in his home, according to Assistant Chief Art Acevedo of the East Los Angeles CHP station.
The man realized he was harboring an alleged fugitive late Friday evening, when he saw an Amber Alert notice on a local freeway connecting the car with a possible child abduction. He drove straight to the East L.A. station, Acevedo said, and told CHP officers that Benites and the girl were asleep in his living room. CHP officers took Benites into custody without a struggle.
The girl was reported missing by her foster family Wednesday. She had been dropped off at school the day before, but failed to show up for classes, said Jimmy Lee of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office. The Amber Alert was issued in part because authorities feared that Benites would take the girl to Mexico.
Lee said that Benites had known the girl for three years. "This is not a stranger abduction and not a custody case, but we treated this as a child abduction for the simple reason that we don't believe that a 12-year-old girl could leave with a 44-year-old man unless he enticed her," Lee said.
Acevedo said the lesson learned from the kidnapping is that "the system works."