Joel Harnage

Joel Harnage was charged with two counts of kidnapping, among other violations, after Sierra Vista Police said he stole a car with two children sleeping inside the vehicle.  

BISBEE — A North Carolina man accused of stealing a car with two sleeping toddlers in it is trying to work out a plea deal with prosecutors, his defense attorney said Monday.

Joel Harnaga has been in custody at the Cochise County Jail since Aug. 26, 2020, when police said he attempted to steal a car with two children in it and drive it to Asheville, North Carolina, records show.

There have been several continuances in Harnage’s case and Monday was no exception, after defense attorney Rodrigo Andrade informed Cochise County Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal that a plea agreement offered to the state was rejected.

“I was informed that what the defense was offering was not accepted,” Andrade said Monday afternoon.

According to Sierra Vista Police, the suspect, Joel Harnage, snatched a sports utility vehicle from the front of a Speedway gas station and convenience store on East Fry Boulevard last summer.

In the back seat of the vehicle, two children — a 2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl — were asleep in their car seats, police said.

The youngster’s mother had gone inside the store and left the vehicle running, police said. It’s not against the law in Arizona to leave the keys in the ignition and to leave a vehicle running. Harnage took off at a high rate of speed, police said, heading toward Highway 90.

Because officers quickly put out an alert regarding the suspect and his actions, Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint on Highway 90 were ready as Harnage approached, said Sierra Vista Police spokesman Corporal Scott Borgstadt.

He was stopped and the two children were unharmed in the back, police said.

Harnage told officers that he wanted to steal a car so he could drive home to North Carolina, Borgstadt said. The suspect admitted he had been waiting outside the store for the right opportunity, police said.

He also told police that he had no idea the children were in the back seat, a probable cause report shows.

Police arrested Harnage and charged him with one count of theft of means of transportation and two counts of kidnapping, endangerment, and custodial interference. He is being held at the Cochise County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Andrade told Cardinal that he and assistant prosecutor Rachel Raynes were trying to avoid hashing out the case in a settlement conference. But on Monday, Cardinal ordered that one be held in Cochise County Superior Court Judge Timothy Dickerson’s division.

Cardinal scheduled another hearing for May 24, but also said that perhaps a settlement conference could occur before that.