The Jewelry Thief in the B Train Tunnel: How One Man Outran the NYPD in Cuffs

The Atlantic Wire

He made flashy videos with titles like "I'm proud to be an Albanian." He debated the afterlife on Sciencebuzz.org. He allegedly snatched chained jewelry from elderly women walking around the Bronx. But none of that — even the jewelry part — could have portended the manhunt through the subway tunnels of Harlem for 18-year-old Vincens Vuktilaj, who briefly halted New York's mass transit system while eluding policy custody on Monday morning, only to emerge five hours later, under a cab, still in handcuffs.

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According to the New York Police Department, Vuktilaj had been arrested on Friday in connection with several jewelry snatchings and later released on bail. But new criminal charges against him surfaced over the weekend, and on Monday police went to arrest him for a second time, at his apartment building on 141st Street around 10:15 a.m. That's when Vuktilaj made a run for it. Officials told The New York Times that Vuktilaj, dressed in a yellow sweatshirt and black socks, pushed several officers escorting him down the stairs of his building and, after losing his captors minutes later, sprinted to the 145th Street subway station at St. Nicholas Avenue, and quickly disappeared.

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In response, police immediately ordered New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to entirely halt the B train and stop certain sections of A, C, and D trains, all of which run through the 145th Street station. The trains momentarily stalled, the hunt for Vuktilaj began in earnest around 10:55, with officers and trained dogs scouring the dank, subterranean tunnels for traces of Vuktilaj's whereabouts.

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Two hours passed. Nothing. The trains began running again. 3 p.m. came and went.

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It soon became clear that Vuktilaj intended to use the tunnels as one leg of his makeshift getaway plan, not as a hiding place. A little before 3:30 p.m. he was spotted 10 blocks south of his last appearance, at the 135rd Street Station, after emerging from the subway station on Saint Nicholas Avenue. People onscene saw him dodge under a nearby car. Remarkably, he was found wearing the handcuffs he's been given earlier than morning.

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Vuktilaj's underground route:

Would-be escapees could learn something from Vuktilaj, just as they could have from the last guy who attempted to escape the NYPD via subway, in September 2012. That man outran dozens of cops in the West Village only to reappear an hour later in Gramercy Park, where he was promptly detained. Sure, it's a romantic thought — mass transit as ultimate escape! But remember: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was a pulp thriller. In the end, you always have to come up for air.

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