Woman Found Tied And Gagged In Trunk
Rodney Wheeler appeared in court this afternoon after allegedly kidnapping his ex-girlfriend's daughter last night.
The 44 year old lives in Richland, and his neighbors on Sanford Avenue says they never expected him to be behind bars.
"He's always seemed like a really nice guy. But the last two months I've noticed he's kind of just been more quiet. Kept to himself," said Rebecca Verduzco.
Police say Wheeler disguised himself as a pizza delivery man, and approached 20 year old Valerie Downing's home.
When Downing answered the door, Wheeler allegedly tackled her, tied her up, and placed her into the trunk of his car.
Police say Wheeler then used Downing's phone to text her mother, Christine Phodites -- who was in Benton City at the time -- asking her to talk.
Phodites called police to check on her daughter, and when they arrived, they found Wheeler attempting to escape.
Wheeler later told police that he had parked his car, with Downing in the trunk near the 2200 block of Ahtanum Road.
Police are calling this one of the most unusual cases they've dealt with in a long time, and say if they hadn't responded as quickly as they did, things may have escalated beyond their control.
"This was a ruse that this guy felt was going to be a way to get back in touch with this woman and lure her up to her daughter's house. Could the end result have been much worse? That is a concern of ours. Yes, it could have been," said Captain Rod Light, a spokesperson for the Yakima Police Department.
Downing's neighbors say they are shocked such a thing would happen in their quiet neighborhood.
"If he needs to go to jail, he needs to go, but he needs some psychological help to deal with his personal problems that he can't apparently deal with by himself," said Beverly Pfaff.
After hearing the story today, Wheeler's neighbors still can't get over the fact he's accused of committing these crimes
"That blows me away. I can't even imagine him doing that. So it's really something not typical of him. It's sad that sometimes people can go through some things, and what their emotions can lead them to do," said Verduzco.
Wheeler is being held on a one million dollar bail.
He will be arraigned in two weeks.