Nearly a week after Rachel Stephenson became the subject of a viral video that captured her escape from an alleged kidnapper in Pennsylvania, the Greenport native reflected Tuesday on the savvy move she made as the nightmare unfolded.
Stephenson, 23, a Binghamton University graduate student, said she used her car’s faulty gas gauge to her advantage: She convinced the man who police said stole her car and took her on a harrowing ride that it was time to fuel up.
“I kept emphasizing we needed to stop for gas,” she said. “He probably could have gotten close to Maryland, but my meter doesn’t read well.”
Surveillance footage showed Stephenson seizing her opportunity at the gas station where they stopped in Frackville, Pennsylvania, bolting from her car at the gas pump. Her kidnapper took off in her car and was later arrested, police said.
The ordeal started nearly two hours earlier at another gas station more than 60 miles away, police said.
Stephenson, on her way back to school after spending winter break with her family in Greenport, was filling up her car at a Uni-Mart in East Stroudsburg at about 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 when a man later identified as Raliek Aminkal Chambers, 18, jumped into the driver’s seat, according to Stroud Area Regional police.
Police said Stephenson attempted to remove Chambers from her car, but after a struggle he grabbed her, forced her inside the car and drove off, with her two cats, in carriers in the backseat. “I was thinking I just want to get home safe to my family, I just want to be able to get home,” she said.
Stephenson said she pleaded with Chambers to drop her off on the side of the road, but he told her that he needed her as his hostage. She told him she would buy him a bus ticket if he let her go, but after another driver, a man in a black truck, glanced at Chambers, he became paranoid, she said.
Stephenson said he began yelling at her and hitting her, convinced she had friends following them. When she said Chambers asked her to put GPS directions for Virginia into her phone, she texted her boyfriend. After hearing from the boyfriend, Stephenson’s father called her, but she said Chambers wouldn’t let her stay on the phone for long.
Her parents alerted authorities, but what ultimately allowed her to escape was the car’s faulty gauge.
Police said after Stephenson escaped, Chambers drove another hour in her car, with the cats in the backseat, eventually leading Pennsylvania State Police on a chase to Harrisburg, where he was captured by police.
Stroud Area Regional police charged Chambers with robbery of a motor vehicle, kidnapping for ransom, kidnapping to facilitate a felony, receiving stolen property, false imprisonment, simple assault and unlawful restraint. State Police charged him with three counts of attempted robbery of a motor vehicle and one count each of false imprisonment and assault.
Chambers remains in custody at Cumberland County Prison.
A Monroe County court spokeswoman said he is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday. He does not appear to have an attorney on file, she said.
A woman who identified herself as Chambers’ mother said the charges against her son would be very uncharacteristic of him.
“My son is not a bad person and I am so sorry for what happened to that girl.”