California toddlers rescued from sailboat, father arrested

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 07, 2012 10:47 PM

By Matthew Berger

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A man suspected of kidnapping his two young children and fleeing with them aboard a stolen yacht along the Northern California coast has been arrested, and the youngsters safely returned to their mother, police and the U.S. Coast Guard said on Saturday.

Christopher Maffei, 43, who was taken into custody on Friday evening off Monterey, California, is accused of abducting his son and daughter on Tuesday from their mother's home in South San Francisco, according to police.

Authorities believe he then drove his daughter, Brooklynn, age 3, and 2-year-old son Devin across San Francisco Bay to a marina in Alameda, where he stole a 40-foot (12-metre) yacht and set sail.

The Coast Guard said it began tracking the yacht, named "Unleashed," on Friday morning as it slowly made its way south of San Francisco.

"We had eyes on him since about 10 a.m., but had to be very discreet about letting anyone know because we didn't want him to somehow get word of it," Petty Officer Thomas McKenzie said on Saturday morning.

A plane flying at high altitude and a cutter monitoring the stolen yacht by radar tailed Maffei until the early evening, when they intercepted him in waters off Monterey.

Authorities made contact with Maffei about 7:20 p.m. local time, said South San Francisco Police Sergeant Bruce McPhillips, who added the conversation lasted about 20 to 25 minutes and that the suspect was "very cooperative."

Maffei put his hands up, surrendered and asked to be taken off the boat, McKenzie said.

He said the children were removed from the vessel and checked over by a medical officer once they reached the Monterey Coast Guard Station. They were in good physical condition and were returned to their mother, Jennifer Hipon.

Maffei was booked into San Mateo County jail on suspicion of kidnapping, parental abduction and child endangerment, authorities said.

It is not known what destination Maffei had in mind, although McKenzie said the boat was merely drifting when it was intercepted by authorities.

(Additional reporting by Lily Kuo; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)