STAMFORD – It was a mistake made in a moment of distraction.
That’s what Tashara Wilson says about her decision to leave her car running while she ran into the New Covenant Center on Richmond Hill Avenue Saturday evening.
It nearly cost her the thing she loves more than life itself, Wilson said.
The car was stolen with her constant companion, a 10-pound service dog named Bungee, inside.
But the tough, quick action of alert Stamford police officers delivered the best outcome – within two hours, Wilson got back her car, her cellphone, and Bungee, who was scratched and scared but appears to be otherwise OK.
Beyond that, two suspects are under arrest.
“Thankful, thankful, in a season of thankfulness,” Wilson said Monday. “Those officers didn’t just save a dog. They saved me.”
Bungee, a 5-year-old black and tan chihuahua mix, was the last of a litter delivered by a dog belonging to Wilson’s former neighbor.
“His birthday is my sobriety day. I got him on my birthday, Aug. 4, when he was a tiny four-month-old puppy,” Wilson said.
The former neighbor “put him on my chest and he wouldn’t get off. When they tried to take him, he hid under my arm,” Wilson said. “We’ve been connected ever since. My dog is my saving grace.”
Wilson, 48, is a transplant from eastern Connecticut who has lived in Stamford for six months. She moved to set a new road for herself, Wilson said, because many of the old roads have been rocky.
But she’s hit bumps since coming to Stamford, said Wilson, a certified medical assistant who is out on disability because of health problems.
“I got an apartment with a Section 8 voucher but it turned out to be infested with mice, and the landlord isn’t fixing it. I can’t keep food there,” she said. “In September a truck hit me when I was driving on I-95. My car was supposedly fixed but it still has problems. Then this happens.”
‘A bad decision’
Because she can’t cook at home, she’s been getting take-out food, which is expensive, so she sometimes stops at the New Covenant Center soup kitchen to pick up a meal, Wilson said.
“I live right down the hill. I got there before five o’clock Saturday, before they were even open. I just wanted to run in and get back home. Bungee was in the car because he’s always with me,” she said. “I don’t know why I didn’t lock the car. I usually do. It was a last-second decision, a bad decision.”
When she came out, her car was gone.
“I was looking up and down the streets, yelling ‘Bungee! Bungee!’ I went into the soup kitchen. I said, ‘Call the police!’ I felt like I was having a heart attack.”
An officer arrived and took the information. After that, she had nothing to do but go home.
“I had no dog, no car, no phone. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to use my laptop to contact people,” Wilson said.
She reached the city representative for her West Side district, Kindrea Walston, who’d helped her in the past, Wilson said.
Walston said she got a call from Wilson’s laptop.
“She was talking so fast and crying. I had to keep asking her to repeat it. Then I heard, ‘Bungee is missing,’” Walston said. “She has had a lot of tragedy in her life. The dog means so much. I knew I had to get up and go.”
They weren’t hearing from the police department, so Walston called her fellow city representative, Sean Boeger, who is a Stamford police sergeant. Boeger was off duty but made some calls, then told Walston to take Wilson to police headquarters and wait for news.
Police had spotted Wilson’s car, Boeger told the women, and officers were in pursuit of suspects.
A car theft watch
Capt. Christopher Baker explained later in a press release that the success in finding Wilson’s car started with a strategy.
“As a response to the uptick in stolen motor vehicles across the region in recent months, the Stamford Police Department deploys at least two officers on a daily basis to an auto theft detail,” Baker said.
The citywide detail is paid for by the American Rescue Plan Act, an economic stimulus law passed by Congress in 2021 to offset the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The funding in this case is for combating auto theft and other crimes in communities, Baker said.
“The goal is to work collaboratively … by proactive patrols or by conducting investigations into the people responsible for these crimes,” the captain said.
In Wilson’s incident, reported at 4:50 p.m. Saturday, officers were notified to be on the lookout, Baker said. At 6:36 p.m., Officer Tyler Portente, who was assigned to the detail, spotted Wilson’s car on East Main Street. Officers followed the car downtown and pulled it over, Baker said.
The male driver and female passenger got out and ran, Baker said. Officers, including Portente, chased the man north on Atlantic Street into the very busy intersection with Broad and Bedford streets. Portente observed that the man was running with a dog in his arms.
Portente closed in, but the dog’s leash was dragging and he became tangled in it, Baker said. Portente fell, striking his head on the sidewalk, as other officers continued the chase.
Captain Tom Scanlon saw the man throw what appeared to be a gun to the ground, Baker said.
“Officer Portente recovered from the fall and continued to chase the suspect to the area of Bedford Street and Spring Street, where Officer Portente took the suspect into custody with the assistance of responding officers,” Baker said. “Officer Portente was treated and released from Stamford Hospital with minor injuries.”
The weapon turned out to be a real-looking black metal pellet gun, Baker said.
A short time later, officers apprehended the female passenger on Prospect Street, Baker said. She has been identified as 18-year-old
Paris Wade of Stamford. She was charged with second-degree larceny, conspiracy at second-degree larceny, and interfering with police. Wade was held on a $2,500 bond with a court date of Dec. 8. She was also arrested on an outstanding warrant for assault in the second degree.
The driver of the stolen car was identified as 20-year-old Isiah Armstead of Stamford. He was charged with second-degree larceny, conspiracy at second-degree larceny, operating a motor vehicle without a license, interfering with police, possession of a facsimile firearm, and cruelty to animals. Armstead was held on a $25,000 bond with a court date of Dec. 8.
Danger and compassion
“This incident was very dangerous in many regards. At the time of the investigation, there was a heavy vehicle and pedestrian presence downtown while officers were pursuing the suspects on foot. The male suspect was carrying a realistic-looking pellet gun while being chased after stealing a vehicle,” Baker said. “Investigating officers should be commended for their restraint, professionalism, and apprehension.”
Security video from one of the downtown buildings shows Portente grabbing the dog from the man just as the man darts across traffic coming through the intersection.
One of the people standing at the corner waiting to cross the intersection picked up Bungee and gave him to officers arriving at the scene, Baker said.
Walston said she and Wilson came upon the scene on their way to the police station on Bedford Street.
“We saw her car. (Wilson) was crying for her dog,” Walston said. “We got out. She was running, shouting … then the officer handed Bungee to her. People had their phones up; they were clapping. Let me tell you, the Stamford Police Department was on it.”
Boeger “gave her hope” when there was no news; Sgt. James Comstock took care of her on the scene, and Portente, who’s been with the department about a year, rescued the dog, Walston said.
“They were wonderful,” Walston said. “They showed a lot of compassion.”
Wilson said she hopes people learn from her mistake.
“Don’t ever, ever, do what I did. Everything can change in the blink of an eye,” Wilson said. “I want to say to Officer Portente and the other officers – it is a selfless act to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and save the day. That goes farther than any job description they could have given you. This situation could have been so much worse, and you stopped that from happening.”