Car thief shows a change of heart

By Ali Monsen

Published 06/29 2014 06:09PM

Updated 06/29 2014 10:30PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - A three year-old girl is safe, Sunday, after a car thief stole the van she was strapped into.

It is any parent’s worst nightmare.  Isabella Ortega turned around to find that her car and her child had disappeared. 

"I don't want anybody to feel as I was feeling,” said Ortega, recalling the dramatic experience. 

The mother of four says she is still riding an emotional roller coaster.  For one thing, she is grateful.

"When I saw the car and my baby, I said, 'Thank you, God, for that,’” Ortega explained.

Ortega had just buckled her little girl into the car when she realized she may have forgotten to lock the front door.  She quickly went to double-check.   

"In that split second,10-15 seconds that she was gone, our suspect in this case—a female—jumped in the van and took off," said Lt. Scott White, with the Salt Lake City Police Dept.

Ortega immediately ran across the street to get help.  She and a neighbor followed the car thief for a couple blocks but then lost track of the van… and the baby.

"Officers flooded the area, looking for the stolen Dodge van," said White. 

Not for long, though.  Three year-old Maya describes what happened next:

"She took the car and turned around," she said (in Spanish).  

That is right.  Twenty two year-old Idaly Proano allegedly looked back and found Maya strapped into the backseat. 

"She turned around, drove back to the home, parked the van, went up to the front door, knocked on the front door, and pretty much asked to come inside and wait for police," explained White.

Meanwhile, Maya's father and three brothers had no idea any of this was going on.

"We went to the park to do a regular Sunday morning Bible study," said Graciano Ortega, Maya’s father.  

All family members agree that it is a Sunday miracle Maya made it home.

"I thought that they were going to get her and kill her,” said Francisco Ortega, Maya’s older brother.

Police say that very likely could have happened.  They are asking all parents to take a step back and use the Ortegas’ close call as a learning experience.

"It only took—in this case—ten seconds for her child to be taken, and not every person is going to do what this individual did…Take that extra step, don’t leave the car running,” said White.

Police did take the suspect into custody Sunday.  She was booked into jail on charges of drug possession and vehicle theft. 

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