A 22-year-old tow truck driver is in Catonsville today for a visit with his family, less than a week after being hailed as a hero for chasing and capturing a man accused of raping a 3-year-old girl in New York City.
Noel A. Sanchez, who lives in New York but whose father is a long-time Catonsville resident, said he has been bombarded by reporters since he rushed to rescue the child last Friday evening, after dozens of people watched the attack without making any effort to help.
Bill Sanchez greeted his son excitedly early today at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. As he walked toward his son in a corridor, Bill Sanchez smiled proudly, eager to hear the hero's story straight from his son, rather than from media accounts.
Although he looked tired, Noel Sanchez, who had been up since dawn, happily told the story to his father, estimating it probably was "the hundredth time" he had recounted the incident.
Noel Sanchez said he was driving his Midtown Custom Coach tow truck down Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to an accident about 5 p.m. Friday when he noticed a group of cars stopped in the road. Thinking there may have been another traffic accident, Sanchez stopped and got out of his truck.
Beyond a wrought iron fence at the side of the road, a man was holding a young girl about 25 feet away on a grassy knoll and assaulting her. Both the man and the girl were naked from the waist down.
Though dozens of people were looking on in horror, no one took action to stop the attack, Sanchez said.
"Call the cops!" someone yelled.
The man suddenly noticed the crowd, pulled up his pants and dashed off with the girl in his arms.
Sanchez ran quickly to his truck and radioed his dispatcher to call for police and other truck drivers.
Sanchez said he knew the park had only one entrance, so he began backing his truck against traffic to reach the entrance before the man could leave.
"I lost him for about five minutes, but I got out of my truck and ran for about half a block, and then I caught him at the corner of 1st and 116th streets.
"He was walking real fast, sneaking around, and when I went toward him, he tried to block himself by holding her up in front of him."
The girl was crying, and the man suddenly gave up and stopped. Sanchez, a burly man about 6 feet tall, held onto him until police arrived a few minutes later.
But the police treated Sanchez with skepticism.
"The first officers were kind of leery," Sanchez said. "They thought I was a nut. They asked what I was doing to this poor guy."
Soon, other people came over and confirmed Sanchez's story to the police.
A second patrol car arrived, and the suspect, Leroy Saunders, 29, was arrested and charged with rape. Saunders is the uncle of the victim. He is being held without bail, police said.
A female officer was called to comfort the young girl and take her for a medical examination, Sanchez recalled.
The publicity has been overwhelming for Sanchez, whose only contact with the media in the past had been delivering newspapers during his childhood.
"The press is in my house, they're in my car, they're in my bathroom with me," Sanchez said.
He listed more than 20 news organizations from around the world that have contacted him during the past week.
But the attention has been gratifying, Sanchez said.
When he stood up to testify yesterday at the grand jury hearing on the case, he said, he "felt good" when he heard applause as he stated his name.
"I'm proud," Bill Sanchez said. "I'm glad that he did what he did, took matters into his own hands to help someone in distress."
Noel Sanchez's sister, Ethenia, 9, said she is also proud of her brother.
"He did a really good job to help that little girl," Ethenia said. "He's a good brother to have."