What should have been a routine trip through a Taco Bell drive-thru in Green, Ohio, instead turned into a terrifying carjacking and kidnapping ordeal for a mother and her three young boys.
Thirty-eight-year-old Danielle (Scripps News is not reporting her last name) struggled with the carjacker inside her minivan on Thursday evening.
"I just wanted to kill him. I was shoving at him. I was pushing at him and it all happened so fast," she said.
Summit County detectives identified the suspect as 44-year-old Mark Carlson. According to state corrections officials, Carlson was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary in 2019. He was released from prison in June.
Danielle said she was placing an order at the fast food restaurant when suddenly a stranger opened up the passenger-side door and climbed inside.
"He sat there and he just stared straight ahead through the windshield. I just stared at him. I was just frozen in fear. I didn't even do anything," she said.
But moments later, the man attacked. He jumped over the center console, opened up the driver's-side door, and began pushing Danielle out.
As she hung on to the door, she yelled hysterically at her kids, ages 6, 5 and 2, in the backseat.
"I was screaming, along with 'Help,' 'Unbuckle! You need to get out! Just jump out of the car! Just run!'"
Danielle said during the struggle, she grabbed the steering wheel. The minivan careened into the Taco Bell building a couple of times, injuring Danielle. Eventually, she was tossed out of the vehicle and onto the pavement.
"My legs were just burning. They were on fire from being smashed."
Although she was injured, Danielle tried to run and was terrified as she saw her carjacked minivan drive off with her kids inside of it.
"He started driving away with all of them, and I didn't think I was going to see them again," she said.
However, the oldest boys managed to unbuckle their seat belts and got out of the minivan while it was still in the parking lot.
The 2-year-old boy was later released at a Circle K gas station.
"Thank God for that angel. There was an undercover cop there at the time, and she saw what happened, and she scooped him up," Danielle said.
Deputies said they chased Carlson on I-77 into Akron, where he was arrested.
Two deputies were injured during the apprehension. One of them was taken to an Akron hospital.
The horrifying crime has left Danielle with the cost of medical bills and a totaled car. The emotional toll on her and her children may be the highest price.
"They're terrified. They sleep with me," she said. "It's his eyes. I can't get his eyes out of my head. Every time I close my eyes, I just see his eyes just staring at me before he attacked me."
Danielle said she will be forever grateful to the deputies who made the arrest, and she's thankful her family is safe.
She said what happened to her in broad daylight should remind all drivers to be alert at all times.
"Make sure your doors are locked so this doesn't happen to any other family."
Prior to carjacking at Taco Bell, Carlson carjacked another vehicle in the city of Akron, and when the gas ran out in that car, he tried to carjack another vehicle at a BP gas station, investigators said.
Carlson is being held in the Summit County Jail on a $500,000 bond. He's facing multiple felony charges, including three counts of kidnapping. His case will be presented to a Summit County grand jury.
A GoFundMe has been set up to benefit Danielle.
This story was originally published by Bob Jones at Scripps News Cleveland.
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