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Brothers capture stalking suspect

The girl said a strange man in a maroon Saturn started showing up at her Tampa Heights bus stop in December.

He would tell the 14-year-old Hillsborough High School student how pretty she was, she said, and ask where she was going.

LaVeda Puig told her parents the man wanted to know her name. Sometimes he opened the driver's side door of his 1995 Saturn and urged her to get inside, she told police.

The teen said the man scared her so much, she switched to a different bus stop. Before long, he started showing up there, too, said Lisa and Onelio Puig, the girl's parents.

The Puigs began accompanying their daughter in the mornings to her assigned bus stop, just a few blocks from their Tampa Heights duplex. They said they didn't worry about their daughter walking home in the afternoons.

"He was never there after school," Lisa Puig said.

At least, not until Wednesday.

Police say Alfredo Rivera, a 45-year-old Spring Hill man with two teenage daughters, was waiting for LaVeda Puig at 3:40 p.m. when she got off the bus at N Ola and W Indiana avenues. The teen raced home after he tried to box her in with his Saturn, said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.

"It was really scary because he had never done that before," Lisa Puig said.

The encounter so angered and terrified her parents that they filed a police report, which included a description of the Saturn.

They also went to the bus stop with their daughter on Thursday morning, just in case the stranger showed up. Rivera drove slowly past the stop at 6:40 a.m., with a large hunting knife in the back seat and a smile on his face as he waved at the girl, according to police.

Durkin said Rivera tried to drive away from the bus stop after the teen's father and her uncle confronted him, but they chased him. By the time police arrived shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, Rivera was a bloody mess of cuts and bruises, and Onelio Puig's knuckles were raw.

"It was all over but the crying by then," Durkin said. "They really chewed Rivera up, enough to send him to the hospital."

After being treated for minor injuries at Tampa General Hospital, Rivera was booked into the county jail on one count each of aggravated stalking of a child under 16 and attempted armed kidnapping.

Durkin said that in addition to the knife, police found a small roll of duct tape, "but nothing that gave indication of any sinister use."

The Puig brothers face no charges for the injuries to Rivera, Durkin said.

"You could say they detained him until we arrived," he said.

"They did the right thing and it worked out this time, but it could have turned out tragic if Mr. Rivera had gotten that knife or had some other weapon."

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Rivera has no criminal history in Florida, according to state law enforcement records. He is not listed in any state or national databases of criminals or sex offenders.

Records show he was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in Pasco County since the early 1990s. He lived in New Jersey before that.

His mobile home along a long rural road in Spring Hill is 38 miles away from the Puigs' Tampa Heights home. On Thursday, two pink bicycles leaned against the mobile home. A swing was on the porch.

Neighbors and police officials said Rivera works at a lumber business on Nebraska Avenue in north Tampa.

Investigators think Rivera has a teenage daughter who attends school near Tampa Heights. Neighbors said Rivera also has a 17-year-old daughter. They said Rivera's wife also works in Tampa.

"He's a good neighbor," said Jorge Leon, who has known Rivera for 10 years. "He's a good father."

His arrest comes amid a search in Pasco County for the man who raped a 15-year-old girl on the side of Osteen Road Tuesday as she walked to catch a county school bus. The suspect described in that case is Hispanic, but he is thought to be between 25 and 30 years old, much younger than Rivera.

Still, Tampa and Pasco detectives are working together to see whether there is a link between the cases, Durkin said.

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The Puigs drove to the bus stop before sunrise Thursday and parked there, not knowing whether the man in the Saturn would show up. LaVeda Puig was accompanied by her mother, her father, and an uncle, Vincent Puig.

At 6:40 a.m., Onelio and Vincent Puig saw a maroon Saturn drive by slowly. The driver waved at LaVeda, Durkin said. The teens at the bus stop shouted, "That's him! That's him!"

The Puig brothers sped after the Saturn, cornering Rivera a few blocks away, Durkin said.

Rivera denied he was the man who had been stalking the girl, Durkin said. So Onelio Puig asked Rivera whether he would drive back to the bus stop so that the kids could see they had been wrong.

Rivera said yes. When he drove back _ with Puig in the passenger seat of the Saturn _ the teens all said Rivera was the man who had been bothering Puig's daughter, police said.

"Rivera said, "I got to go,' " Durkin said. "But the teen's father said, "You're not going anywhere. You're staying here until the police come.' Rivera tried to get away, so they did what they had to do to detain him."

Thursday night, Onelio Puig still had the sore knuckles to prove it.

His wife, Lisa, said family members are just happy that they won't have to worry about that maroon Saturn anymore.

"I feel better," she said, "Now that he's caught."

Staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or svansicklersptimes.com.

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