U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Georgia woman charged with kidnapping after hijacking news van with reporter inside

Incident Details

Date of Incident
April 14, 2020
Atlanta, Georgia


Was the journalist targeted?

Equipment Damage

Equipment Broken

Shortly after Georgia TV reporter Iyani Hughes, pictured, recorded a live shot in Atlanta on April 14, 2020, the news van where she was editing footage was hijacked and then crashed.

January 29, 2024 - Update

Woman gets 10 years probation after kidnapping Georgia TV reporter

A Georgia woman was sentenced on Jan. 29, 2024, to 10 years of probation, including mental health treatment, on charges related to kidnapping Atlanta TV reporter Iyani Hughes.

A WANF news crew was reporting at the scene of a car crash in Atlanta in April 2020, when the driver of the crashed car, later identified as Seniqua Lunsford, jumped behind the wheel of the crew’s van. Hughes was sitting in the back of the van editing footage and was unable to exit it before Lunsford sped away.

Lunsford crashed the van about a mile away. Hughes was uninjured but given a medical examination and notified that she was five weeks pregnant. Lunsford was also pregnant.

Lunsford was charged with six felonies and three misdemeanors. Under the terms of a negotiated agreement, she pleaded guilty to five of the felony counts — false imprisonment, theft by taking, aggravated assault, criminal damage to property and obstruction of law enforcement — and was sentenced to 10 years of probation, including a required assignment to a mental health probation officer.

She has yet to be sentenced on the remaining felony charge of amphetamine possession and misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct, simple battery and failure to obey signs or control devices.

Hughes, in a podcast episode in April 2022, said that she did not believe Lunsford had specifically targeted her for kidnapping, but added that she questioned whether she’d make it out alive and described experiencing anxiety attacks since the incident.

April 14, 2020

A woman was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, and charged with kidnapping after police said she hijacked a news van on April 14, 2020, with a reporter inside.

Atlanta police spokesperson Officer Anthony Grant told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that at approximately 5:30 a.m. police were called to the scene of a crashed Toyota involving a pregnant woman, later identified as 38-year-old Seniqua Lunsford.

A CBS46 news crew was nearby to cover the crash, the outlet reported, and had just finished a live shot. Reporter Iyani Hughes had started the news van to power her computer as she sat in the back editing footage, while the photojournalist with her stood outside.

Grant told the Tracker that, unbeknownst to the officers approaching the scene of the crash, Lunsford exited the vehicle. She then jumped behind the wheel of the news van and sped away.

Grant said that officers heard reporter Hughes’s screams, attempted to stop the van and then gave chase.

Police spokesman Officer Steve Avery told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Hughes attempted to make Lunsford pull over.

“The suspect wouldn’t do that, so [Hughes] did the smart thing: She got into her seat and put her seat belt on,” Avery said.

The chase ended when Lunsford crashed the news van into a traffic circle approximately a mile away, deploying the airbags. Police quickly arrived at the scene and arrested Lunsford, Officer Grant told the Tracker.

Hughes was not injured in the crash, Grant said, but was taken to the hospital as a precaution. During the course of their investigation, police learned that both Hughes and Lunsford are pregnant.

CBS46 Station Manager Jeff Holub told the Tracker, “This was obviously a very dangerous and frightening situation and we are happy that Iyani is OK.”

Lunsford is being held on charges of kidnapping, which is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison under Georgia law.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].