LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — An arrest has been made in the case of a man accused of stealing a van and leaving a family pet in the vehicle to die.
KCAL9′s Rachel Kim was interviewing the family whose pet was found dead when she noticed the father pacing.
Nayo Mateo told her he was on the phone with police and said he recognized the suspect sitting nearby.
“I remembered his face, since I saw it in the pictures [police released],” said Mateo.
Police arrived quickly, intervened and questioned the suspect and took him into custody around 7:45 p.m.
The suspect was later identified as 29-year-old Danny Frist, a transient known to people in the area.
Kim interviewed the man as he was being led off. She asked if he stole the van and he said “No.” But she asked him if he had anything to do with the dog and he replied, “Yes.”
She also asked him if he saw a dog inside the vehicle and he said, “Yeah.”
The case has outraged pet lovers around the Southland.
The van was abandoned for two days, and was eventually found by police. The dog — a 10-year-old Golden Labrador Retriever named Maru – was abandoned in the van, found with the windows rolled up.
On August 17, around 1 p.m., police say the suspect, who was wearing a brownish colored plaid hoodie, stole a dark blue Honda Odyssey from the shopping mall parking lot located at Whitsett Avenue and Ventura Boulevard.
Mateo left the air conditioner running while he entered a children’s clothing store to get his family, leaving the dog inside the van. When he returned, the van and the dog were gone.
Officials recovered the van on August 19 around 5:30 p.m., in the 4100 block of Whitsett Avenue in a parking lot outside the Weddington Golf and Tennis Club. That is where Kim was interviewing the family when the suspect just happened to show up.
Maru died of heat exhaustion.
The suspect is between 35-45 years-old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighs about 200 pounds. The man has black hair, brown eyes, and when last seen was wearing a brownish colored plaid hoodie, a dirty white T-shirt, and tan shorts.
Kim reported the man taken into custody closely matched the suspect who police were looking for.
Mateo told Kim, “I told him [the suspect] that he is going to pay for what he did.”
The family said they are heartbroken about the loss of Maru, a dog they had since she was a tiny puppy.
“We always called her our daughter,” says Mateo, “She was my baby.”
Mateo is hoping if Frist does turn out to be the person who stole his van and left Maru to die he and his family can have some closure knowing he will face justice.
“Now that I know he’s in the [police] car, I hope he’s not going to hurt another dog, or another kid,” said Mateo.
Frist was booked on felony animal cruelty and grand theft charges.
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call LAPD’s Animal Cruelty Task Force at (213) 486-0450.