NEW YORK CITY — A handcuffed Harlem teen accused of a string of snatch-and-run chain thefts broke free from cops as they were hauling him out of his home Monday morning and fled into a nearby subway station, causing a massive manhunt that shut down transit service along large swaths of Manhattan, police sources said.
For more than two hours, service along the A, C, B and D lines was suspended on the northern of half of Manhattan and in parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn as cops looked for 17-year-old Vincens Vuktilaj, according to police sources.
With his arms handcuffed behind his back, the teen escaped from cops after pushing a detective who was leading him down steps in his apartment building on St. Nicholas Avenue, police sources said. Vuktilaj then fled into a nearby subway station at West 145th Street, police source said.
Police arrested the teen in Harlem about 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, after he exited a subway station near 135 Street and St. Nicholas Avenue and hid under a car, police and sources said. Cops had used K-9 dogs to search for him, sources said.
"He ran under a car, and [cops] dragged him out," said a 14-year-old girl who witnessed the capture.
Vuktilaj had maneuvered his handcuffed hands so that they were in front of him, rather than behind him, sources said.
He was charged with assault and escape, police said.
Subway service disruptions began about 10:55 a.m., shortly after a train conductor told cops he spotted a person believed to be the suspect lying on track bed on the southbound platform.
Subway service resumed with minor disruptions shortly after 1 p.m.
Vuktilaj was arrested May 3 in The Bronx for two chain snatch thefts, according to police sources. He was arraigned and released on bail, but cops again arrested him at his home Monday morning after investigators tied him to similar crimes in The Bronx.
He is suspecting of approaching five women in April, ranging in age from 55 to 93, and either grabbing or trying to grab chains from their neck, then fleeing, police said.
The teen's father, Preke Vuktilaj, said his son had only been home from jail for a night when the cops called to say they were dropping off belongings he had left.
"Police say they are coming to bring stuff," said the father, who is from Albania. "They say, 'Is he home?' Yes he's home. Police come. They arrested him."
The dad said he followed the cops and his handcuffed son to the building's lobby, asking the reason for his arrest.
"I don't know who opened the door," the dad said. "My son, he left, and the police went after him. His hands were in back. He ran."
Preke Vuktilaj said his son worked as a busboy and didn't commit the thefts.
"My son is not criminal. My son is very, very nice kid," he said.
He speculated that his son bolted from cops because he was scared.
"Nobody likes to go to jail. He's 17 years old," the dad said.
The police investigation suspended service on A and C trains between 59th St-Columbus Circle and 168th Street, the MTA said. The B line had no service between Brighton Beach and 145th Street, while the D line had no trains running between 34th Street-Herald Square and 161st Street-Yankee Stadium, according to the MTA.
Arthur Greenberg, 74, waited for an hour on a southbound A train that was held at 145th Street.
''I didn't know what was going on. The first thing you think is terrorism," Greenberg said.
"They just said, 'There was police activity. We hope to be running soon,'" he added. "But we waited an hour or so. About 10 cops came running down. They had a couple dogs.''
Additional reporting by Nigel Chiwaya