Sierra Vista kidnapping suspect caught at Border Patrol checkpoint

File Photo/Courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection

By Jon Johnson

SIERRA VISTA – A North Carolina man who allegedly stole a car from Sierra Vista with two toddlers inside was taken into custody Wednesday night after being located in a Border Patrol checkpoint on State Route 92 near Benson.

According to a release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tucson Sector agents assigned to the checkpoint received a request from the Sierra Vista Police Department (SVPD) to locate a vehicle stolen from a woman and that there were two children in the car. Minutes later, a car matching the vehicle’s description entered the checkpoint’s primary inspection lane.

During the immigration inspection, the car was verified as the one reported stolen and the driver, Joel Harnage, 43, of North Carolina, was arrested. The toddlers were located in their car seats and were unharmed.

SVPD officers were informed of the arrest and took Harnage into custody. The toddlers’ parents arrived shortly thereafter and were reunited with their children.

According to the SVPD, the woman had left her car running with the children inside as she went into a Speedway gas station at 1497 E. Fry Blvd. to make a quick purchase. Harnage was apparently waiting outside the gas station and took the opportunity to steal the car. Harnage allegedly told police that he had been watching convenience stores for an opportunity to steal a car to drive back to North Carolina.

“It is not uncommon for a criminal to observe a location in search of an easy target and act when given the opportunity,” said SVPD Public Information Officer Cpl. Scott Borgstadt in a press release. “We are grateful the children are safe and greatly appreciate the aid of our law enforcement partners who helped search for the vehicle, especially the U.S. Border Patrol agents who identified it at the checkpoint.”

Harnage was arrested for two counts of kidnapping, theft of means of transportation, endangerment, and custodial interference and was booked into the Cochise County Jail. He is being held on a $50,000 bond.

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