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Mesa parent fights back, gets help, prevents car theft with kids inside

John Conrad Merrell (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX – An East Valley parent fought back and got help from bystanders to prevent a man from stealing a vehicle with two young children inside last week, authorities said.

John Conrad Merrell, 59, was arrested near Southern Avenue and 20th Street in Mesa on Nov. 1 after witnesses helped detain him, according to court documents.

The Phoenix resident was charged with two counts of unlawful imprisonment and one count each of robbery and vehicle theft, all felonies, according to the Maricopa County Superior Court website. He also was charged with three misdemeanor disorderly conduct offenses.

Police said the parent was in the vehicle with the kids while waiting for the school bus around 7:30 a.m. when Merrell opened the door and pulled the victim out.

The parent tried to resist but Merrell was able to get into the driver’s seat while the keys were still in the ignition, police said.

He slammed the victim’s hand in the door during the incident, police said. He also hit the victim on the head with the vehicle’s hard plastic armrest, which came loose during the struggle, police said.

The victim cried for help and the kids screamed and cried during the ordeal.

Three bystanders who heard the cries and saw the struggle pulled Merrell out of the vehicle and held him on the ground until police arrived.

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