For a moment, Yvonne Lesko thought her teen son was the one who grabbed her car door. Then she felt a man’s hands on her throat.
As WCVB News reports, the mom-of-two from Methuen, Massachusetts had gone to the grocery store to get food for a kids’ sleepover. She was getting back in her car, which was parked near the entrance to the shopping center, when she felt someone grab the car door and push her.
“I was getting into my car,” Lesko told WBZ News. “I hadn’t shut my door yet, I must have just been leaning over to put my pocketbook down, and I was just getting ready to shut my door and all of a sudden I just felt somebody shoving me from the side.”
“[I thought] I can’t believe this is happening to me,” Lesko told WCVB. The next thing she knew, the man’s hands were around her throat as he tried to choke her.
“What else could I have done but just fight him off as best I could?” she added. So Lesko began screaming for help and honking the horn as she desperately tried to fight off her attacker. She told WBZ:
“I just started pushing back, got my hand on the horn, just started beeping, was pushing him off at the same time, and screaming, ‘Help, help me, help me.'”
That was the moment Jay Sarcione pulled in to the parking space across from Lesko’s car. Their eyes met, and Sarcione immediately knew that the mom was in trouble. He told WBZ:
“It looked like someone was in a struggle. But then I started hearing the horn and the light went on inside the car, like the visor light, and I could see the woman, she was getting choked pretty hard and strong and she was getting pushed into the passenger seat.”
Sarcione rushed to aid Lesko as the attacker ran off. He asked if Lesko knew the man and then told her to call the police before running after him.
Sarcione had almost caught up the attacker when he saw the man turn and reach for something. Worried that it might be a gun, Sarcione slowed down and waited for the police.
Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon told WCVB they don’t encourage people to chase down suspects because it can be dangerous. However, Sarcione explained to WBZ that he made the decision to chase the man because he was worried that the attacker could try again with someone else:
“Going after him outweighed not because if he got away, then you know, he could do it to someone else in a day, in six months, or something. But someone that’s going to approach a woman in her car when there’s a ton of people around and try to attack and get in her car with her probably isn’t someone that should be lurking around anyways.”
Lesko said that she kept her cool and didn’t get emotional until Sarcione returned and gave her a hug.
“It was scary but everything turned out good and I thank God for Jay,” she told WBZ.
Police caught Lesko’s alleged attacker, 53-year-old Rafael Rosario, who has been charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted carjacking, strangulation, and assault and battery.
The incident is a reminder that thieves and criminals have been known to take advantage of parking lots to prey on their victims. After a woman was robbed in a Houston parking lot, former Secret Service agent Jim Napolitano gave KPRC four tips for avoiding danger in parking lots:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Maintain distance between yourself and strangers.
- Plan a path for your movement.
- If you don’t feel safe, don’t go to your car. Go back inside.
Lesko’s decision to make a commotion when she was assaulted was a good one. After a teen girl foiled an attempted kidnapping in Maryland, a local police officer told WTOP that making noise and drawing attention to yourself can persuade the kidnapper to flee or bring others to help:
“Make as much noise as possible — try to draw as much attention to the situation as possible. That could maybe help identify the suspect leading to his capture or causing the suspect to flee before any more harm occurs.”