A suspect charged with committing a rape in Central Park last Thursday was arrested in Howard Beach early Saturday.
Paulie Velez, 25, was arrested in Old Howard Beach just before 1 a.m. after fleeing his mother’s Ozone Park home when police came knocking, according to reports.
Velez was caught near the canals behind 101st Street and 160th Avenue after a chase that involved him jumping over fences and into the water and hiding under a deck, the New York Post reported.
“After an intense, around the clock investigation by our Special Victims investigators and their counterparts in other [Detective Bureau] units,” and with assistance from the 106th Precinct, Velez was apprehended and charged with rape, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said on Twitter.
A Crime Stoppers tip reportedly helped the investigation.
“Thanks to tips from the community and phenomenal investigative work by NYPD SVU, the perpetrator was located and apprehended by your 106th Precinct Officers in Old Howard Beach,” the 106 said on Twitter.
The search included aviation and harbor patrols, according to reports.
Howard Beach residents watched the drama unfold on the Howard Beach Dads Facebook group, which alerts community members to incidents going on in the area.
Laura Riley captured video on her phone of some of the search outside of her home and shared it with the group administrators.
“There’s always something going on on our block but we never expected anything like this,” she said.
Jacob Zuniga of Hamilton Beach was on his way out when cops locked everything down, he said, and he started updating the Howard Beach Dads group immediately.
“I was telling people to stay inside, not to come out and be nosey ... We try to update the community the best we can.”
According to police, the crime occurred at 7:20 a.m. on Thursday as the 27-year-old female victim walked on a footpath near Swan Lake and the Wollman Ice Rink.
Police said the victim was approached from behind and choked before being sexually assaulted near a staircase in the park. They believe she was unconscious for some time before coming to and flagging down help. She was transported to a hospital in stable condition.
Velez reportedly went to a convenience store after the incident to sell the phone he stole from her but was turned away and then he took the subway downtown.
He faces charges of rape, robbery, strangulation, assault, sex abuse and criminal possession of stolen property, police said.
He is being held without bail.
Forty-five minutes after the attack, a separate incident of attempted rape took place a couple of miles away near 103rd Street and the FDR Drive. Police said 38-year-old Howard Shaw was arrested and had prior arrests for robbery and rape in 2005 and was released just days before the attack.
Velez, who police said was homeless, lived in Florida for a time where he was charged with sexual battery, battery and kidnapping. A photograph on his Instagram page shows him wearing an ankle bracelet with a caption reading “Locked up, they won’t let me out.”