A single Buffalo mother packed her two young children into her car and went out in the middle of the night to get medicine for her infant son.
But when she stopped at a friend's house about 3 a.m. Saturday to get money to pay for the medicine, a car thief jumped into her vehicle and drove off with her children.
"I screamed to my friend Ed, 'Get me a phone,' but Ed came out of his house and pushed me out of the way and started chasing my car," said Vanessa Plew.
Unable to stop the car, the mother and her friend called 911 and reported the kidnapping at 3:12.
Twenty-five minutes later, the police radio crackled to life with good news. Ferry-Fillmore District Officers Brendan Kiefer and James Kaska had recovered the car and two unharmed, sleeping children in the back seat after spotting a man abandoning the car on the first block of Wyoming Avenue.
Marlon Clay, 31, of Nevada Avenue, was charged with kidnapping, reckless endangerment, unlawful imprisonment and car theft.
"I was still standing in front of my friend's house, giving a lieutenant information, when we got the news. I felt like I was in something that was surreal," Plew said later Saturday.
Police whisked Plew and her friend to Wyoming Avenue, where she was reunited with her children, Nathaniel, 10 months, and Alexandra, 5.
Kiefer and Kaska continued investigating and determined that Clay had stolen a 1989 Cadillac earlier in the night from Cheektowaga and was apparently in search of a newer car, authorities said.
Driving down Parkridge Avenue, Clay spotted Plew's car, a 2001 black Pontiac Sunfire, parked with the engine running in her friend's driveway and decided to steal it, police said.
The officers, according to police reports, are certain that at some point Clay became aware that the children were in the back seat, because the vehicle was ransacked.
When they arrested Clay, they found Plew's house keys and cellular phone in his possession, police said.
Plew said that, before bundling the children up to go out and get the medicine, she had gone outside her home on the Buffalo-Cheektowaga border, near Genesee Street, and started the car to warm it.
"I had been at Children's Hospital all day Friday with my son and had forgotten to go to a friend's house to pick up Tylenol. I'm a single mother, and I'm always broke," she said.
It wasn't until Nathaniel awoke late at night, while she was on the phone talking to her friend, that she realized she was without the medicine.
"Ed said to come over and he would give me the money. I work as a repossession agent, but I only get paid every two weeks. So I went over and parked in Ed's driveway and ran up to the door.
"The car was less than seven feet from me. I didn't want to turn it off because my son was sick. I wanted to keep the heat on," Plew said, adding that she did not feel comfortable calling her relatives in the middle of the night to run out and get the medicine for her.
While she was separated from her children, Plew said, she couldn't stop worrying over whether the driver had opened a car window.
"It was bad enough that my son was kidnapped, but he's also sick, and I didn't want the cold coming in on him," she said.
When police took her to the car, Plew said, the door windows were closed, but the thief had opened the sunroof.
The night ended with a stop at an all-night supermarket, where Plew and her friend purchased the medicine.
But it was the diligent police work, Plew said, that provided the saving medicine of the night.
"I was impressed with the police response time and how efficiently and professionally they handled the situation and resolved it," she said.