Suspect arrested in pair of New Jersey car thefts; 3 kids inside one vehicle

PARAMUS, New Jersey (WABC) -- Police in New Jersey have arrested a suspect after the thefts of multiple vehicles, including one with children inside.

Authorities say the incident began around 9 a.m. in Paterson, where a woman pulled over near a Wendy's with three kids -- ages 2, 4 and 5 -- in the back seat. As she headed for an ATM, she was reportedly approached by a man who took her keys, jumped into the car and sped off. Police said the woman attempted to grab the steering wheel and was dragged.

All Paterson police units were diverted to that incident, with officers scouring the area before locating the vehicle about 15 minutes later in Hawthorne, on the border of Paterson, at an auto parts store where the children were found unharmed.

"I was taking my son to school this morning, at about 8:15 in the morning...and I saw three little kids across the street from my house," Prospect Park Councilman Anand Shah said. "I came back, and I came to Dunkin Donuts to see what's going on. I saw a lot of police cars here, I saw a lot of police cars there as well."

The children were taken by ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital, where they were reunited with their mother, who was being treated for her injuries.

Police say the suspect fled down the street to the parking lot of a 7-Eleven, where he allegedly stole Miguel Lora's Acura SUV that had been left running in front of the convenience store.

"I parked the car, so right behind me was another car, a white car, so he parked right next to me," Lora said. "So as I soon as I went into the 7-Eleven, he got out of his car and went into mine. And then he left."

Lora called police and the LoJack company, as his car is equipped with one, which made tracking it down easy for authorities.

A state-wide alert on the plate led to the location of the SUV and the suspect in the parking lot of the Garden State Plaza mall around 10:30 a.m., and 43-year-old Frank Saggese was taken into custody.

Lawmakers say the incident serves as a reminder for motorists to never leave a running car unattended, and to never leave children alone.

"Can't do that, can't do that," Councilman Robert Artis said. "I'm surprised people still do that today. It's amazing. But I guess, not thinking, someone quickly went inside, thought she was going in quickly and would be OK. But apparently not. So never leave your car. Never leave kids in the car. That's important."

Saggese was brought back to Paterson to face charges.
Copyright © 2022 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.