Woman accused in carjacking babynapping appears in court

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- A woman arrested in the theft of an idling vehicle with an 8-month-old baby inside is scheduled to appear in court today after consulting with an attorney.

Melissa Ann Arreola, 42, of South Lake Tahoe appeared briefly in El Dorado County Superior Court on Monday afternoon

Arreola faces one count of carjacking, an alternative count of grand theft auto and a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol with one prior conviction.

If convicted, Arreola could face up to nine years in state prison for carjacking or up to three years for grand theft auto. An additional year would be placed on either charge since she was previously convicted of driving under the influence in February 2001.

Judge Suzanne Kingsbury reset the bail for Arreola at $70,000. The woman appeared with glasses and only said "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" to Judge Kingsbury.

Arreola was arrested Friday morning by the South Lake Police Department for allegedly stealing a vehicle Feb. 27 with an 8-month-old baby inside.

She was arrested at her residence on the 1000 block of Martin Avenue by police who received a Secret Witness tip that lead to her arrest.

"We appreciate the anonymous person who called us," said Detective Martin Hale.

Arreola's residence is near the Dry and Fold Laundromat on 2660 Lake Tahoe Blvd., where the carjacking and kidnapping took place, said Sgt. Alex Schumacher.

The 27-year-old mother of the baby, Jenifer Shults, left her 1998 red Ford Explorer running while she picked up her laundry on Feb. 27. Around 6:30 p.m., Arreola allegedly entered the Explorer, locked the doors and drove away with the infant in the back seat.

Shults ran out of the laundromat and stepped in front of the vehicle in attempt to stop it, but the driver kept going and nearly ran her over, police said.

More than 20 local law enforcement officers from five agencies, including the police department, searched for the missing Explorer and child.

The Explorer was found that night, abandoned in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at Carson Avenue and U.S. Highway 50 by two officers at 6:56 p.m. The baby, whom police would not name, was still inside. The woman was last seen leaving the parking lot on foot.


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