HAZLETON — A 125-mile crime spree Friday morning that started in Hazleton and ended in New York City involved the kidnapping of one woman, the attempted kidnapping of another and a dramatic ending when a stolen Cadillac Escalade crashed on the George Washington Bridge, police said.
Authorities said a 33-year-old man from New York allegedly kidnapped a woman by force from her residence on North Church Street Friday morning and was captured hours later after the bridge crash.
At a news conference, Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea identified the suspect as Luis Figueroa. Court records list Figueroa’s address as Walter Avenue, Bronx, New York.
According to DeAndrea, Hazleton police responded to 149 N. Church St. at about 8:30 a.m. after a man armed with a shotgun attempted to abduct a pregnant woman. One of the women in the house had a protection-from-abuse order against Figueroa, the chief said.
DeAndrea said the pregnant woman ran out of the house and flagged down a passing school bus. The bus driver allegedly told authorities a man covered in blood and armed with a shotgun emerged from the North Church Street house.
“For the safety of the students, (the driver) did not open the door and radioed dispatch of the incident,” DeAndrea said.
The two elementary school children inside the house were unharmed. Shortly afterward, DeAndrea said the Hazleton Area School District was placed under restrictive movement for the safety of the students.
A second woman allegedly was abducted by Figueroa from the same house. Figueroa managed to make his way to Interstate 80 east, drive about 50 miles to the Delaware Water Gap area near the border with New Jersey, where DeAndrea said he stole a vehicle belonging to an off-duty park ranger.
Though details were unclear, the abducted woman managed to escape and make her way to Pocono Mountain Regional Hospital in East Stroudsburg.
Both women are being hospitalized with unspecified injuries, DeAndrea said.
“It is not confirmed whether or not he was in an altercation,” DeAndrea said. “We have some reports that he actually beat the park ranger to take the car.”
DeAndrea said Figueroa then drove to Patterson, New Jersey, where he allegedly attempted to trade in the stolen vehicle for a Cadillac SUV. An argument ensued with the car dealership, and Figueroa allegedly beat the dealer, set a fire at the dealership and fled with a stolen Escalade.
From there, DeAndrea said, a pursuit then began with the New Jersey State Police. Figueroa allegedly crashed the SUV into two Port Authority police vehicles as he sped across the George Washington Bridge at about noon. Figueroa struck a police SUV at the toll plaza in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and continued east across the bridge before crashing into a Port Authority police cruiser in Washington Heights, according to WABC in New York.
Figueroa was found with burns on his arms and torso, and was taken to Cornell Medical Center in New York. The two Port Authority police officers were taken to Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck for minor injuries, WABC reported on its website.
“For some reason, this man snapped today,” DeAndrea said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, Hazleton School District Superintendent Francis Antonelli and Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi all had praise for the school bus driver, as did DeAndrea.
“Had that bus driver opened that door, this would be a much different press conference,” DeAndrea said.
Salavantis, who attended the news conference, said Figueroa would probably be returned to Hazleton to faces charges, but declined to comment on what those charges could be.
Salavantis commended the work of law enforcement agencies in the three states.
“If it wasn’t for their quick response, I don’t believe we would have this quick outcome like we see here,” she said.