Sex Offender Arrested

Convicted Sex Offender Followed a Girl Home from School
Merced The suspect in this case has a criminal history that includes molestation and indecent exposure. He's even listed on the Megan's Law Website. Police say the little girl he targeted on this street escaped unharmed thanks to her own quick thinking and her neighbors' willingness to help.

"I was super, super scared."

This 10 year old girl was walking home from Tenaya Middle School Thursday when she says a man on a bicycle started following her and even asked her to come closer. That's when she made a daring decision that police say may have saved her from being assaulted by 36 year old Tony Vaca a convicted sex offender.

"I saw him and ran toward the lady who was outside."

Andrea Hernandez was out in her yard when she saw the sixth grader running toward her.

Andrea Hernandez, Neighbor: "I heard her screaming like she was in real trouble, and I said what's wrong sweetheart, she said, that man there's trying to grab me, he's following me."

Hernandez led the little girl inside and called 911 while her husband got in his car and started following Vaca.

Hernandez: "My husband said he went into all the cul-de-sacs and couldn't find him then he went all the way straight and turned on Lopes and he saw him right there."

Merced police say Mr. Hernandez got out of his car and was able to keep Vaca from leaving the area just long enough for officers to arrive and make an arrest.

Lt. Bimley West, Merced Police Dept.: "We tried to book him into Merced County Jail but for health reasons, they would not accept him. We had no choice but to cite and release him back into the community."

Tenaya administrators have notified teachers and parents about the incident and police say they're hoping the public will report any suspicious activity. Meanwhile, this little girl is just glad her neighbors were willing to help.

"I'm thankful that they saved my life."

We spoke to the Merced County Sheriff's Department about why Vaca was not booked into jail. Deputies say if a suspect has a health condition, medical staff at the jail can request that person be evaluated by a doctor before being booked.

We're told after they made that request, police never brought Vaca back to the jail.

He is expected to be in court next week.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.