Man accused of carjacking woman in Hempfield while she was shopping with 4-year-old granddaughter

HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A man is facing charges over accusations he stole a car in Hempfield Township on Sunday and endangered a 4-year-old while doing so.

State police say Paulino Romero, 39, carjacked a grandmother who had just finished up shopping at the Hempfield Township Burlington Department Store with her 4-year-old granddaughter.

“Very nerve-wracking being that I come here once a month. I’ve lived in this area my whole life and on a Sunday especially just very scary that that happens in your hometown,” Jillian Nimick of Mount Pleasant said.

Police say the grandmother and the 4-year-old who she has custody of were walking out of Burlington after 1 p.m. when Romero saw them and tried starting a conversation. The grandmother reportedly ignored Romero and walked to her Jeep that she had parked outside the store.

“Especially in a public place like this you should feel like your car is OK,” Ashante Lewis said

After the grandmother put the child in her car seat on the back passenger side, authorities say she walked to the driver’s side door where Romero confronted her and said, “I’m sorry ma’am, I need to do this, I need your car, you can have the kid.”

When she said no, he grabbed her purse and the two got into a struggle where police say she screamed for help but no one came.

“If nobody was out in the parking lot I can see that like right now there’s nobody so if I was just out here by myself it would just be me in self-defense,” Nimick added.

After breaking the purse strap, Romero grabbed the key, got into her Jeep and started driving away as the grandmother pulled the 4-year-old out of the car.

The stolen Jeep was found abandoned and damaged at a Millvale gas station over 40 miles away from the reported carjacking. Police say they found Budweiser beer cans inside the Jeep which matched the cans Romero reportedly had when Millvale police had taken him into custody for alcohol-related charges before finding the vehicle.

Surveillance video from an auto body shop across the street helped police match the description of Romero. Paperwork says Romero - who didn’t have an address listed in the criminal complaint - admitted to troopers he’d been planning to steal a car for three days. Romero told troopers that he was at the Live Casino before admitting he stole the Jeep and then headed toward Pittsburgh.

Romero faces several charges. He’s in the Westmoreland County Prison without bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 3.

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