Cabdriver Aaron Dunbar had a split-second to make a decision: Call the cops to report a suspected fugitive hailing his cab or do something more dramatic.
He chose the latter.
Dunbar let the man get in his cab, stalled for time and hoped his call to a dispatcher would provide a clue as to what was going on.
Dunbar's actions brought a peaceful end Wednesday to a nearly eight-hour manhunt by more than 50 police officers for an escaped prisoner from the Elgin Mental Health Center.
Dunbar's cab was stopped at Prospect Boulevard and Summit Street in Elgin when the suspect, Jesse Vega, hailed him from about 500 feet away.
Dunbar said Thursday he realized people knew of the manhunt and were scared that a potentially dangerous suspect was on the loose.
"I might as well try to do something," he recalls thinking. "Anybody in the same position, I'm pretty sure, would react in the same way -- attempt to do something to solve it."
Personal safety was not a huge concern for the former soldier with the Army National Guard.
"I wasn't really worried," said Dunbar, who stands nearly 6 feet tall and weighs about 250 pounds. He admit he "looks intimidating" and said Vega "seemed more nervous than anything."
Vega, 33, of Chicago, had escaped mental health center security personnel about 8 a.m. while being taken to a court hearing in Lake County, police said. He jumped out of a stopped vehicle near Summit and Dundee Avenue on Elgin's northeast side, not far from Dunbar's apartment.
Dunbar said he got a cellphone alert of Vega's escape about 11 a.m. He also saw a photo police released to the public.
About 4:10 p.m. Vega hailed Dunbar's cab. He picked up the suspected fugitive, who asked to go to O'Hare International Airport. To stall, Dunbar says he told Vega he would have to pay upfront.
Dunbar said he couldn't see Vega's handcuffs, which were still on one wrist but concealed under his clothes.
"He was wearing sweats, so no pockets," Dunbar said. "I wasn't afraid that he was carrying a weapon."
Dunbar pulled into the parking lot of the Seneca Health Center on Dundee Avenue and parked his cab so it was visible to people driving in and out. He notified his dispatcher that he had picked up a ride through a cellphone app just before handing the phone to Vega so he could call a friend with a credit card for help.
"I was pretty much stalling because I wasn't taking him to the airport," Dunbar said. "It was a good five or 10 minutes he was sitting there. From what it sounded like on the phone, he was trying to get somebody to meet him at the airport."
As police were monitoring all cab rides summoned in the area, Dunbar's location immediately raised a red flag.
Officers soon converged on the parking lot. Vega surrendered without a struggle, police said.
Elgin police Cmdr. Ana Lalley said authorities are "extremely appreciative of what he did. Obviously, it's very courageous. He paid attention to the alert that we sent out. That says something about the community and that they are engaged."
A Kane County judge Thursday set bail at $1 million for Vega, who would have to post $100,000 to be released.
Vega is charged with one count of escape from a penal institution, a felony that carries a penalty of three to seven years in prison or probation.
Vega told a judge Thursday he "still hears voices and that he needs help," Kane County prosecutors said.
Vega will be held at the Kane County jail until his next court hearing July 28.
On Wednesday, Vega was traveling to a mental fitness hearing ordered by a Lake County judge related to charges stemming from an attack last year on his girlfriend in the parking lot of Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. She sustained a fractured skull and swelling on her brain -- injuries that sent her to the intensive care unit of an area hospital, authorities said.
In that case, Vega faces numerous aggravated battery charges, obstruction of justice and aggravated driving under influence while on a suspended or revoked license.
If found guilty of the charges, he could face up to 30 years in prison.