NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Police on Friday arrested and charged a suspect in a violent assault on a woman and her three children in Queens, at the hands of a man who allegedly posed as a livery cab driver.
Pedro Vargas, 48, of Yonkers, has been charged with two counts of felony assault and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He made his initial court appearance Friday night.
Police said surveillance video showing the attack in gruesome detail helped investigators track down the suspect, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.
In court, Vargas’ attorney said the video was misleading.
“The prosecutor asked for $25,000 bail. The judge was reasonable enough to set bail at $3,500,” said Vargas’ attorney, Howard Greenberg.
The arraignment was quick and the bail was relatively low, Young reported. But Vargas was to remain n custody until his parole officer can weigh in, which will likely not happen until Tuesday.
Vargas could face up to two years in jail if convicted, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Around 2:45 a.m. Sunday, the woman told police she got into a man’s dark-colored sedan after he said he was a livery cab driver.
He took her and her kids, ages 5, 3, and 1, on an 11-mile ride from 207th Street and Post Avenue in Inwood, Manhattan to Queens to a homeless shelter at the former Pan American Hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, police said.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, the criminal complaint says that when they pulled up to the shelter, Vargas and the victim began to argue about the fare.
The District Attorney’s office alleged that Vargas “forcefully hurled the 3-year-old child from the cab to the pavement swung his elbow into the 5-year-old and knocked her to the ground, and then, while struggling with the children’s mother as she held her 1-year-old child, caused the child to be dislodged from the mother’s arms and fall to the sidewalk.”
Police earlier said he tried to sexually assault the woman when they arrived – although he was not charged with a sex crime.
“(The victim) was panicking,” neighbor Aaron Ling said. “She kept screaming, ‘police, police!’ I ran over here because I thought someone was dying or something.”
The woman’s loud cries for help woke up several people in the neighborhood, including James Yang who lives in the house where the surveillance camera is mounted.
“I saw the lady with the kids, but I don’t know what really happened,” Yang said.
Greenberg said the viral video of the incident was misleading.
“He wanted them out of his car. Mom wouldn’t remove them, so he probably overreacted,” Greenberg said.
As to the children being elbowed in the face, Greenberg said it was “just a reaction — not intentional” on the part of his client.
Greenberg claimed the issue was that the woman was going to stiff Vargas on what she owed for the ride.
“Look, he was pissed,” Greenberg said. “She stiffed him on the fare, and he was trying to get rid of her, and them.”
The woman was able to provide a detailed description of the suspect and the car to police.
Detectives were then able to track the car by reviewing security cameras along the route it took from Manhattan to Queens, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
The car was a rental and through records, police were able to locate Vargas, who was arrested Thursday at his Yonkers home, Papa reported.
Police said there was no indication Vargas was a licensed livery cab driver.
Vargas has a rap sheet of more than a dozen arrests dating back to 1984, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported. He was sentenced in 1994 to 15 years to life on kidnapping and robbery charges. He was denied parole twice, but was released in 2012 after serving 18 years.
But Greenberg said Vargas’ criminal past is beside the point.
“I laugh at the media saying he has a violent past. That was 19 years ago, folks. It’s ancient history for law of evidence purposes,” Greenberg said.
Vargas’ attorney said his client had been working as a welder since he was released from prison, but admitted he had been supplementing his income with the unlicensed livery cab work.
Two of the three children were treated for minor injuries. In a statement, representatives from the homeless shelter said they were offering support to the victim and her family.
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