California woman, 85, fights off shovel-swinging suspect before carjacking and chase

HANFORD, Calif. -- An 85-year-old California woman fought off a carjacking suspect. That scary scene happened in the middle of the day and prompted a high-speed chase through two counties.

The Kings County Sheriff's Office arrested James Pena, 36, on Thursday. He's facing multiple charges, including carjacking and assault with a deadly weapon.

The sheriff's office says this all went down in just a few minutes. The suspect eventually led deputies on a chase into Fresno County, but not before one of the victims fought back -- all while he was swinging a shovel at her, demanding keys to a car.

Jessie Cotta enjoys living in her Kings County home. She likes the peace and quiet the country brings. But Thursday, the front porch turned into a terrifying scene.

"All of a sudden I see this man come across the carport, and he had a shovel in his hand," said Cotta.

Cotta says the man opened the screen door, demanding keys to a car. The 85-year-old jumped into action.

"My hand was up here, and I was pushing, pushing, about that time the shovel came here," said Cotta.

The shovel hit her finger, cutting it. She says she continued to push back, closing the door. Her friend Louis came to help when the would-be carjacker took off.

"If I had come outside, I never would have got back in the house. I don't think he'd let me back in the house," said Cotta.

Cotta says she found inner-strength, keeping her and Louis safe.

"When you fight for your life, you fight for your life," said Cotta.

The carjacker found another victim and stole a truck from a home around the corner. Soon, the California Highway Patrol spotted the truck and started chasing him.

"Leading them on a 20-to-30-minute pursuit northbound on Highway 41 up into Fresno County, at speeds reaching 120 mph," Kings County Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam said.

Putnam says they used spike strips to stop the Avalanche. They say Pena was behind the wheel and gave up. And in the truck, they found the shovel.

Cotta says Pena is the same man that threatened her. Now that it's all over, she's grateful he's in jail.

"I thank the good Lord that I'm here today," said Cotta.

The sheriff's office says the suspect also had keys to another car reported stolen from Home Depot in Hanford on Thursday. Pena's bail is set at $385,000.

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