TAMPA — The butterfly windchime on the door to the Mobil Mart jingled Friday morning. A 40-year-old woman walked in, shaking, gasping for air and struggling to yell.
All that escaped was a hard moan.
She pulled out a marker and scribbled her plea on the notebook she uses to communicate.
I almost got abducted.
"When I saw the word abducted," 22-year-old store clerk Tanveer Miah said, "I immediately called police."
For the next several minutes, Miah translated the woman's tale for 911 dispatchers. This is what he and police said afterward:
The woman — deaf and mute, with vision so poor she's legally blind — had been sitting at a bus stop at Cypress Street and Dale Mabry Highway before 7:30 a.m., on her way to work as usual.
A man approached her and escorted her to his car.
She thought nothing of it at first. Occasionally, one of her male coworkers will see her at the bus stop and offer her a ride.
She thought this was the coworker.
Then, the sunlight changed. Her bad vision became sharper. This wasn't her friend.
He pushed her into the car and closed the door.
In her panic, she felt for the handle. Patting. Grasping.
The stranger started to touch her through her clothes.
She tried to scream, get help and fend him off all at once. No one heard.
Finally, a door handle.
She pushed through and pulled away, fleeing as fast as she could, with her cane and limited sight.
She shoved through the doors of the Mobil Mart to the mercy of a 22-year-old gas station attendant who had come on at 6 a.m. and was in the middle of selling gas.
The man was black, the woman scribbled. He wore a striped shirt. His car was white.
Miah saw a white sedan in the parking lot. The man inside was on the phone, and he seemed to be blocking gas station traffic.
"Go get the man's license plate number," Miah ordered a customer.
The white sedan pulled away and out of sight. Miah offered the woman his stool.
A responding detective spotted a white Grand Am parked at the Shell station across the street.
Inside, 50-year-old Luis Mendez sat, pants unzipped and physically aroused, police said. He had two knives tucked inside the driver's side pocket, police said; under his seat was a large club wrapped in duct tape.
Police questioned Mendez. He was last arrested in 2001, charged with battery and kidnapping, but convicted only of battery. Before that, he was arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution. And before that, battery and DUI.
Though police suspected Mendez on Friday, they needed more evidence before they could charge him with false imprisonment and lewd and lascivious molestation of a disabled person, before they could take him to jail, where he would be held in lieu of $4,000 bail.
They asked the victim to identify her perpetrator.
Standing before the open back door of the cruiser where the man was seated, the woman lowered her face to his face. Only inches separated them. She put her eyes to his eyes, placed her hands on his handcuffed hands, then turned and collapsed, sobbing in the arms of a detective.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.