When Vincent Portillo saw a girl that he thought was being harassed near the northbound onramp to Interstate 5 two weeks ago, the retired police officer did what he was trained to do – he followed what he thought was a suspected kidnapper, got the license plate number, and reported it to Lathrop Police Services.
On Monday Portillo was given a “Model Citizen Award” by the department for his actions and his willingness to go out of his way to help somebody that he believed was in trouble.
And he used his platform to speak about what he sees as a problem in the community.
Portillo, who lives in Lathrop, said that he sees the trek that students who live on the east side of the community have to make to the high school – crossing across a freeway onramp and offramp and walking alone down a seldom-traveled section of roadway – as a dangerous one that needs to be addressed.
He said that he had to abandon some of his training and instead serve as a citizen by returning to the scene of the incident once he had gotten the license plate number and reported it to the police.
“If you see something, you need to say something,” Portillo said from the lectern of Lathrop City Hall.
Portillo said that he was reminded of the case of a young girl – Michaela Garecht – who was kidnapped in 1988 and became the first child featured as abducted on the popular television show America’s Most Wanted. She has never been found, and the case with the Hayward Police Department – in which Portillo and wife both worked at one point in their respective careers – remains open.
But what he saw, in the eyes of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, didn’t turn out to be an attempted kidnapping.
The woman who was arrested – Francene Escobar – is the owner and operator of the Kwiki-Kleen Car Wash and gas station in Manteca. She spent two days in the county jail when he bail was set at $50,000 and ultimately paid when it was lowered to $4,000. All of the charges against her were eventually dropped before she was formally arraigned.
Escobar, a past member of the Manteca Soroptimists and the Manteca Rotary, used her personal Facebook page sparingly before the incident but has received an outpouring of support from people since news of her arrest became public.