McDonald’s employees helped woman who mouthed “help me” in drive-thru escape abuse, police say

National News

CALIFORNIA (NBC NEWS) — A California woman who authorities believe was in danger of abuse got help from an unlikely source on Christmas Eve.

Employees at a McDonald’s in Lodi intervened and called 911 after the woman, whose identity has not been released, indicated she was in danger, according to a Facebook post from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the woman entered the McDonald’s, where she asked an employee at the counter to hide her and to call 911, giving the person the license plate number of the vehicle she was driving. The woman used the restroom and tried to order at the counter before the man who was allegedly threatening her, Eduardo Valenzuela, 35, who was nearby, stopped her and demanded she order using the drive-thru instead.

In the drive-thru, the woman mouthed “help me” to an employee. Shortly after, deputies arrived and pulled her over. Valenzuela was in the passenger seat at the time.

Authorities say Valenzuela had allegedly threatened the woman’s life, saying he would use a firearm, as he ordered her to take him to visit his family. Police later found a firearm in the trunk of the car which had been stolen from out of the state. Valenzuela had been violent with the woman in the past, police said.

The McDonald’s location was a designated “safe place for abuse and human trafficking victims,” according to the Facebook post. The National Safe Place Network designates sites where youth can go “in crisis situations.” These locations, including the McDonald’s, receive orientation and training on how to assist youth in need of help. Sites include fast food restaurants, convenience stores, libraries, community centers and other locations. Several other businesses, including Starbucks, Walmart, Goodwill and Wendy’s, have also offered Safe Place support.

Valenzuela was booked on charges of criminal threats, stolen property, and possession of a firearm as a felon. His bail has been set at $360,000.

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