It was a balmy Chicago summer night in 1998. My 12-year-old sister and I were headed to my boyfriend’s grandparents house with a platter of freshly grilled steaks. I had a nice car—a Jaguar XJ6c—which I was quite proud of. We were in a rush to get to our hungry group waiting for their steaks. We hopped in the car and I started to make a U-turn. As I was looking over my left shoulder, checking on the traffic my U-turn attempt is holding up, I heard the backdoor open on my sister’s side. I turned to see a man in my backseat. I gasped. Before I even knew what was happening, he had climbed into the front seat, sat on my lap and grabbed the steering wheel.
AN EASY TARGET
Before that summer night, I had never been a victim of any kind of crime. I had never thought about someone hurting me or taking advantage of me. I was athletic, trim and agile, but not prepared to be carjacked. I wasn’t ready to defend myself against rape, robbery or murder. I wasn’t prepared to fight for my or my sister’s life. And I was the perfect target. In that high profile car, my sister and I were sitting ducks for a criminal.
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TIME TO FIGHT
I remember the whole scene as if I had been watching it in a movie. I could hear the engine screaming from the amount of gasoline pumping into it—the carjacker was standing on the gas pedal by this point. I was pushing my foot on the brake so hard that the car was rocking back and forth, but not moving. I remember seeing my fists; my arms were on fire from hitting him on the head, first with the right, then the left. His head kept bouncing back and forth, but he seemed unaffected.
I had long acrylic nails and broke every single one inside of my closed fists. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I was determined to fight this man who wanted my car, and quite possibly my and my sister’s last breaths. I heard myself scream—the shrillest noise I’d ever heard come out of my mouth before. I looked out of my open window and saw my neighbors take notice, but none of them reacted. Maybe they were in shock, too.
I yelled out for my future mother-in-law, who was in my apartment. I looked to the left to see her running towards the car. The man on my lap saw her too, and opened the door and fled. It was over.
Every night for weeks afterwards, memories of that man haunted me. He crept into my dreams and turned them into battling nightmares. I woke up filled with anger and aggression. I lived through those days wishing I had been able to stop his heart from beating. The incident changed me and my sister forever. But I fought back, and thank God I’m alive.
AVOID THE MISTAKES
I’ve since learned that I made many mistakes that night. Here are just some of the ways I might have avoided a carjacking attempt:
- Don’t rush. I was in a hurry, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on around me.
- Look around. I jumped into my car without looking to see who was near.
- Lock the doors. Once in the car, I should have locked my doors before doing anything else.
- Don’t open the windows. My car windows were completely open. Even if my doors had been locked, he could’ve reached in the car to open it or jumped in the window.
- Drive without distractions. I was focused on making a difficult U-turn. Had I just driven around the block to change direction, he may not have had such a long opportunity to get in the car.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy offers these tips to avoid a carjacking:
- Look inside your car before entering.
- Place your purse and other valuables under the front seat or in the trunk, not in plain view.
- Remain alert at all times and take special care when stopped in traffic for anyone approaching your auto.
- Keep a reasonable distance from the car in front of you. If you can see the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you, there is sufficient opportunity to move your vehicle in order to escape an emergent situation.
- Try to drive in the left lane, away from the curb. Also avoid asking strangers for directions.
- Sound horn to attract attention if approached by a suspicious person or curbed by another auto.
The key: Imagine how a carjacking might occur, and mentally prepare yourself to be alert and strategize how you would handle it.