Alert civilians and Boston police teamed up to apprehend a man who allegedly kidnapped a 29-year-old medical student Thursday afternoon in a brazen attack in the South End, officials and witnesses said.
The woman was getting out of her vehicle on Waltham Street at about 3:20 p.m., when the suspect, Joel Cartagena, 36, allegedly grabbed her hair from behind and threw her into the passenger seat, police Superintendent Randall Halstead said.
“Walking down the street, he saw an easy mark, and he took it,” Halstead said of Cartagena.
Cartagena drove off but crashed into a van a couple of blocks away on West Dedham Street, police said. A civilian witness saw the crash and alerted utility workers, who informed an officer working a paid detail, Halstead said.
He said the officer chased Cartagena and alerted patrol officers, as well. Cartagena was captured near O’Day Playground.
“I just want to thank that civilian who stepped up,” said Halstead. “This is a classic example of, ‘See something, say something,’ which is the basic building block that comprises community policing.”
Junior Gonzalez, 40, of Mansfield said he was in the neighborhood visiting his mother when the crash occurred.
Gonzalez said he chased Cartagena and caught up with him on the corner of Aguadilla Street, which is near the playground.
He said Cartagena did not struggle but did insist he had done nothing wrong.
According to Gonzalez, the man he helped police capture blamed the woman for the incident.
“He said she wanted to buy some drugs, and he was taking her to the spot,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that he made the risky choice of pursuing the suspect because he knew that a woman had been harmed.
“That could be somebody’s mom, somebody’s sister,’’ he said. “I’m just happy he got caught.”
The alleged victim, whom officials did not identify, was treated at Boston Medical Center for minor injuries, police said.
Speaking with reporters at police headquarters, Halstead said that he had not yet discussed a motive with detectives, but that it appeared to be a crime of opportunity.
Idalia Flores, 44, of Hyde Park, said she was inside Vejigantes restaurant on West Dedham Street when the car crashed into the van.
She said she saw Cartagena flee and spoke to the woman, who had a bloody nose and bruises on her face.
“People from the neighborhood came out to her rescue,” Flores said.
“The guy was running out to the middle of the street, and it was really frightening for a moment, because she was like, ‘He was trying to steal my car,’ ” she said, adding that the woman described being pushed into her vehicle.
“It was a scary moment for a moment there,’’ Flores said.
Cartagena, of Woburn, is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Boston Municipal Court on charges of kidnapping, carjacking, and assault and battery causing injuries, police said.