San José councilman, deputy fire chief help capture carjacking suspect

Mercury News March 15, 2016

SAN JOSE — Sometimes the folks at City Hall literally jump into action to tackle a problem, as an alleged carjacker and kidnapper discovered early Monday night.

City Councilman Raul Peralez, a former police officer, and Deputy Fire Chief Robert Sapien were speaking at a neighborhood meeting at a downtown coffee house when a car crashed outside on Auzerais Street.

“I didn’t think. I just reacted,” Peralez said Tuesday afternoon after a City Council meeting. “My first thought was an accident happened and to check to see if anyone was hurt.”

What happened appears to have been a kidnapping that became a wild chase on the streets, a crash and fight between the suspect and his pursuers, all of which ended with the suspect in the clutches of the councilman and fire official.

None of the other people involved have been identified.

According to San José police, witnesses said the suspect got into the van, which had the keys in the ignition, as a woman sat in the passenger seat in the 300 block of Page Street. The man then took off with her still in the van.

A co-worker of the woman’s son and another young man saw what was happening and gave chase in a car.

Police said the carjacker hit another car during the chase before crashing at the corner Auzerais and Delmas avenues just south of downtown about 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Peralez and Sapien were talking with Delmas Park neighborhood residents at the iJava Cafe, kitty-corner from the crash site. The coffee house is a popular gathering spot for community leaders.

“Everybody heard the crash,” said Nadir Ali, the cafe owner. “I looked and saw two guys beating the hell out of the guy from the van.”

Peralez said he and Sapien ran out and found the suspect trying to escape from the scene. One of the pursuers managed to wrestle the suspect to the ground. Sapien called 911.

“I think the real heroes are those two kids,” Peralez said. “They handled everything, and I was just there at the end to hold the guy to the ground. … My skills as an officer definitely helped me in terms of getting involved in the situation and restraining the suspect.”

Peralez and Sapien returned to the cafe to a curious crowd, where it occurred to Peralez that he never saw the reportedly kidnapped woman.

“She wasn’t in the van,” he said. “I don’t know anything about her.”

A San José police spokesman said the woman asked the suspect to release her but he ignored her. At one point when the suspect slowed down, she was able to escape from the vehicle, police said.

After being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, the man, identified as John Lam, was booked into Santa Clara County Jail on three felony counts of carjacking, kidnapping and hit-and-run with injuries, police said.