It was a frigid night outside an Indiana truck stop, so Peggy Jones made an exception. Just this once, she let two hookers climb into her semi.
She had no idea she was about to rescue one of them: a kidnapped teen from Adrian, Mich.
"You could tell she was scared by the way she was acting," Ms. Jones recalled.
That was four years ago.
Tomorrow, the saga that began when the 13-year-old left home for a birthday celebration - but was instead raped, beaten, and forced into prostitution - ends in a Detroit courtroom.
Convicted of kidnapping and sex trafficking, former Toledoan Clarence Brown, 33, faces a possible life sentence tomorrow before U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow.
Holly Hollis, a 22-year-old hooker who "trained" the frightened teen during the 2001 ordeal, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking last year. The one-time Toledoan was sentenced to 46 months in prison on Dec. 5.
Ten days later, a nationwide U.S. Justice Department crackdown on teen prostitution led to arrests of more than a dozen Toledo men and women accused of running a multistate prostitution ring involving juveniles.
And though the Adrian case is unrelated to the federal "Innocence Lost" initiative, the accusations are chillingly similar.
"Physical abuse, violence, and rape - that is generally part of the process for [pimps]," said David Johnson, chief of the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit.
The specifics of the girl's story - we'll call her "Marie" - parallel other instances of teens forced into the sex-trade.
"You've got somebody who has basically provided access to a girl in a very vulnerable position. From the perspective of a pimp, it doesn't get any better or easier than that. I'm sure he had a smile from ear to ear when he saw that poor girl dropped off on his doorstep," Mr. Johnson said.
In the Adrian case, Marie left for Toledo on Nov. 9, 2001, with her 19-year-old boyfriend.
They were going to Toledo to celebrate her upcoming 14th birthday, he told Marie. She was going out with a girlfriend, Marie told her grandmother.
The couple never reached the theater. Instead, they spent the next few days hop-scotching between various homes in Toledo and Ypsilanti, Mich., where they met the boyfriend's relatives and friends, including one-time Toledoan Clarence Brown.
Marie was uneasy, but she didn't immediately call home.
"I said, 'I guess we're not going to see a movie because we missed the [start].' I knew I was going to get in trouble [for being late]," Marie said.
The grandmother, meanwhile, called police. She called friends. Nobody knew anything for sure.
In Ypsilanti, Marie met Hollis and her 6-year-old son. The group - the teen, the boy, and the three adults - headed for Pennsylvania. Marie's boyfriend repeatedly assured his increasingly frightened girlfriend that she'd be taken home soon.
Finally, after they fought, he left. Marie tried to call home collect. She got no answer.
Stranded with people she'd just met and living on crackers, Mountain Dew, and cigarettes, Marie said the days were "all pretty much a blur." Hollis would leave for hours and return with cash.
"I don't remember my [14th] birthday. I don't remember Thanksgiving," she said.
On Nov. 18, Brown and Hollis offered to take Marie home. But three hours into the drive, nothing looked familiar.
"Do you know where you're going?" she asked Brown. Easygoing until then, his demeanor instantly changed.
"Shut up!" he ordered. "You're my bitch."
Marie was in "whore training," they told her. The girl looked at Hollis and started to laugh.
"Is he being serious?" Marie asked.
"Yeah," Hollis replied. "He's serious."
Last week, sitting at her grandmother's kitchen table, Marie recalled that pivotal moment: "There were so many things going through my mind. 'Am I going to live?' "
At a motel in Fort Wayne, Ind., where they stayed for several days, things turned violent.
Brown raped her. He hit her head. He threw her into a wall.
On Nov. 20, two days after they arrived, Brown sent Marie and Hollis to a truck stop. Hollis found a john for Marie and ordered her in the cab. Hollis waited outside.
"He was in a blue truck I'll never forget it," Marie said. "He told me he didn't have the money, but I was going to do it anyway."
He tied her hands behind her back, shoving her onto the bed in his sleeper cab.
"He was rubbing his knife down my neck and down my shirt I started to cry, and I said, 'I'm only 14!' And he started cussing at me, telling me I was sick."
He threw her out of the truck. In the motel later, Brown beat Hollis for leaving the girl alone.
"He went over to where Holly was on the bed with [her son] and started beating and punching her," said Marie, who wanted to shield the little boy. "I took [the child] into the bathroom and started running the shower and the faucet and started talking to him."
Later that night, Brown raped Marie for the second time. And for the next six days, Brown "made [Marie] perform sexual acts of prostitution at the truck stop," according to the FBI.
Then, on Nov. 27, Ms. Jones pulled her truck into the lot for a break.
Marie "and the other girl were out there. The other girl asked if she could use the radio ... so they got in the truck, and the other girl was on the [CB] radio trying to drum up business."
In the back of the cab, Ms. Jones and Marie talked.
"I knew she was young," the truck driver said. "I figured maybe 17 or 18. We were talking. The other girl left to go meet a guy."
Marie, finally left unguarded by Hollis or Brown, asked Ms. Jones to drive her away.
"I was like, well, where do you want to go?" the trucker asked.
Marie didn't care: "I was telling her, 'Just go! Go!' I just wanted her to keep driving because I didn't want them to find me."
Ms. Jones didn't know the details, but she knew enough. "We never talked about [what happened]. I mean, I knew the situation she was in. I'm not naive."
It wasn't until a year or so later, when FBI agents tracked her down in Oklahoma, that Ms. Jones said she heard the full extent of Marie's nightmare. In November, she went to Detroit to testify at Brown's trial.
Marie's grandmother said the grateful family took the truck driver out to dinner.
"Peggy" she said, "was heaven-sent."
Contact Robin Erb at: email@example.com or 419-724-6133.