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Thief takes off with car, baby

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Friday April 27, 2001

The morning coffee rush at a popular Elmwood cafe turned frantic Thursday when a woman ran in screaming that her car had been stolen with her 8-month-old daughter in the back seat. 

“It happened so fast,” said Miguel Perez, an employee of the cafe. 

Perez had to dial 911 when the panic-stricken woman, who apparently spoke little English, threw down the phone in despair. 

Berkeley Police put out an all points bulletin just after 9 a.m. Within an hour, Emeryville Police found the baby unharmed, still sitting in her car seat in the back seat of the car, which had been abandoned near the intersection of Adeline and 40th streets in Oakland. 

The woman, who lives in Oakland and is a regular patron of Espresso Roma, left her daughter in the car unattended because she didn’t want to wake her by moving the car seat, said Berkeley Police Sgt. Kay Lantow.  

She parked within view of the Espresso Roma’s check-out counter and ran in to buy coffee, Lantow said.  

When she returned to the car a few minutes later she found the baby still sleeping and decided to run another quick errand at a nearby store, Lantow said. But she had not gone far toward the store when she realized she’d left her keys in the car door. 

“She turned back around, and the car was already gone,” Lantow said.  

“We’re guessing that, more than likely, the suspect didn’t see the child and, more than likely, once he figured it out, he abandoned the car,” Lantow said, explaining that the car seat had been covered so that the baby was not visible. 

Lantow said late Wednesday that there are still no suspects in the case and no witnesses to the crime. 

“Everything now is under investigation and hopefully now we will be able to do what we do and try to figure out who did this,” she said. 

When Berkeley Police arrived on the scene Wednesday morning they found the woman in a state of total panic. The language barrier was an added problem, since the Spanish-speaking woman had trouble telling police what had happened or even describing her car, witnesses said. 

“It was quite emotional,” said Cyrus Shabahari, owner of an interior decorating store a few stores away from Espresso Roma. “She was screaming, stomping her feet, yelling, running up and down...” 

Two people soon stepped in to help translate for the woman, Lantow said. 

Emeryville Police officer Mike Allen was the first on the scene in Oakland. He said he was driving down 40th street (just a block outside of Emeryville) just after 10 a.m. Wednesday when he noticed a man “waving his hands frantically” beside a green Dodge Neon four-door car. 

The man, Boubacar Dialla of Hayward, heard a baby crying when he walked past the car. He became concerned when he noticed the car was parked in a red zone and there were no adults in the area, Allen said. 

Allen said he set out to look in a nearby business for the owner of the car until he realized it matched the description of the car reported stolen by Berkeley police.  

Allen immediately notified Berkeley police, who rushed to the scene with the child’s father. 

“I saw the baby in the father’s arms, and she looked very fine to me,” Lantow said, when asked about the baby’s condition. 

“It’s nice to have a happy ending,” said Allen, a 12-year veteran of police work. “That’s what I’m in the job for.” 

Lantow said the case might not have ended so well if not for the crucial assistance rendered by Mr. Dialla and the two citizen translators. 

The crime appears to have been purely “opportunistic,” Lantow said, with someone walking along Ashby Avenue in Berkeley spotting the keys in the door of the car and jumping at the chance for a “joy ride” or some easy money. 

It’s not uncommon for cars stolen under similar circumstances to be used to commit other crimes before they are abandoned, Lantow said. But in this case, the suspect apparently didn’t even drive with undue haste. 

Police found a cup of Espresso Roma coffee sitting upright on the passenger side floor, right where the car’s owner had left it.