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    Thief picks on nun, runs into ex-trooper

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 30, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- The 79-year-old nun, wearing her habit, walked out of the shopping center with her purse sitting in her shopping cart.

    What happened next was shocking: A teenager ran up, snatched the nun's purse and raced off.

    And then, perhaps, some divine intervention.

    After the teen rummaged through the purse, pocketed $50 and tossed it in a trash bin, he tried to hitch a getaway ride, authorities said.

    Who stopped to pick him up? A retired cop.

    The incident occurred about 2 p.m. Friday outside a shopping center at County Road 1 and Main Street in Dunedin. The teenager did not touch the nun, Mary Hoguet, when he snatched her purse, Pinellas sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie said.

    The suspect, whom sheriff's officials identified as a 17-year-old Safety Harbor resident, took the money, ditched the purse and flagged down a car, Dennie said.

    John Coyne, 56, a retired New York state trooper, stopped to pick him up, and the teen asked to go to the Holiday House Motel, 1220 Main St., Dennie said. He said Coyne had seen deputies respond to the shopping center. He thought the man who asked him for a ride seemed in a hurry and became suspicious, Dennie said.

    "It's just one of those cop things. It's a hunch," Dennie said. "This guy (the robber) wanted to get out of the area fast."

    Coyne took the teenager to the motel, then went back to the scene of the crime and told deputies what happened. Deputies then went to the motel and arrested him.

    The teen, whose name is being withheld by the Times because he is a juvenile, was charged with petty theft. Deputies recovered the purse, but not the nun's wallet or money.

    Dennie said both Coyne and Hoguet are local residents. Neither could be reached for comment.

    "Anybody that steals from a nun needs to be caught," Dennie said. "It was a blessed ending."

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