Witnesses describe intense Ballard carjacking as 'scariest moment' for parents

SEATTLE - A homeless repeat offender faces kidnapping and robbery charges after investigators say he stole a father’s car with his 5-year-old child inside.

It happened in broad daylight at the popular Ross Playfield Park in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood on 3rd Avenue NW after a children’s baseball game.

What looked like a scene out of an action movie played out in a quiet Ballard neighborhood full of children.

Investigators say Ryan Popplewell, 32, jumped into a father’s running car and drove away while his 5-year-old was inside.


Probable cause documents show the dad had left the car for a few seconds to get something he left at Ross playfield after a youth baseball game.

Eve Minehan lost her sense of security after what she saw.

“Honestly, my heart was— I was so freaked out,” said Minehan. “All of sudden I heard someone running down the street yelling, ‘Where is my son? Where is my son?’ In a way that any parent would recognize as pure terror really like your worst nightmare.”

Investigators say the dad chased the car, jumped through an open car window, grabbed his son and they tumbled onto the ground.

A crowd of Good Samaritans chased Popplewell and surrounded the car.

Police say the suspect ditched the car and ran away on foot to a tent.

In the process, witnesses say he pepper-sprayed a Good Samaritan chasing him and even changed into a different t-shirt in the tent to evade police.

Police finally caught him.

“It’s scary because I almost have a 3-year-old now, so the thought of like my child getting taken, that’s a parents’ most scariest moment,” said Vanda Szabo who heard the sirens and commotion.

The 32-year-old is on the King County High Priority Repeat Offender list.

He’s been convicted of 12 felonies, including assault and criminal mischief and has had 28 arrests.

Popplewell was recently charged with 3 felonies including residential burglary, attempted vehicle theft and possession of a stolen car.

On May 6th, his defense argued for temporary release so he could go to treatment, but prosecutors argued against the release because of his history.

But he was allowed to go on house arrest, and on May 14th, he cut tampered with his ankle monitor.

Prosecutors requested warrants for his felony charges.

A week on May 21st, police say the carjacking happened.

“Sometimes people get arrested and they get released but they don’t get help, said Szabo. “If there’s a better program to help them out so they don’t end up being violent again, instead of releasing them.”

At today’s first appearance hearing, the judge found probable cause for First Degree Kidnapping, Theft of a Motor Vehicle, and Robbery in the Second Degree.

The judge set his bail at $250,000—agreeing with prosecutors Popplewell is a danger to the community.

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