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    Purse thief attacks woman, 77

    She was on her way back from grocery shopping. Now, she says, a little of her security has been snatched away as well.

    By BRIAN MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 28, 2001


    LARGO -- At 77, Winifred Luft proclaims herself to be independent, confident and rather outgoing. She participates in aerobic exercises three days a week and ballroom dancing another three days, and she plays an occasional round of golf.

    Until Thursday, she has felt safe at her condominium on Highland Avenue. But that feeling of security was swept right out of her arms, she said, when a man rushed at her from behind, yanked her purse away and knocked her to the ground. He took off, but Luft got a good look at him.

    She walked into her condo, called police and gave a clear description of the man. About 10 minutes later, police tracked down 22-year-old Jason Anthony Price of 30700 U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor.

    Price was charged with battery on a person over 65 and robbery. He was being held Friday afternoon in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $20,000 bail for each charge.

    "I've never been afraid here," Luft said. "Now I think I'll be looking over my shoulder. I didn't care about the purse, but I hate that this guy took my security away from me. From now on, I'll be kind of leery. And I'll be wanting people to take me home. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm independent."

    Luft was walking into a hallway on the first floor of her building after a trip to Albertsons supermarket on Thursday night. She carried groceries in her right hand and her purse over her left shoulder when Price pushed her from behind, she said.

    Price was convicted of burglary in Wisconsin in 1997 and of auto thefts in 1996 and 1997. He also has been convicted of two misdemeanors and was cited for seven traffic violations, including one DUI, between 1994 and 2000, according to Wisconsin state records.

    There have been seven purse snatchings in Largo through June of this year. There were 14 last year, according to crime analyst Mac McMullen. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office received 24 reports from July 1, 2000, to July 1, 2001.

    Luft's case reflects an opportunity robbery, McMullen said. He doesn't believe Price ever followed Luft, but rather happened to be in the area and saw a chance to grab the purse. McMullen encourages people to be attentive to their surroundings. If you don't feel comfortable with activity around your home, he said, immediately call police.

    "It seems some people are almost embarrassed or afraid to call police sometimes," McMullen said. "They say, "I just don't want to bother police with this.' But we encourage them to call in this specific activity because sometimes we can link this activity to other cases."

    Having your keys in hand when stepping out of your car is helpful for quick entry into your home, McMullen said. Pinellas County sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita added that you should even make a conscious effort to observe your surroundings while you're driving home. If you suspect someone is following you, drive around the block a time or two.

    When parked, if you see a suspicious person or car nearby, keep the doors locked and windows rolled up. Honk the horn to attract attention, Tita said.

    The way a purse is held might also be a deciding factor in whether someone will approach you.

    "If it's carried in a real authoritarian manner, held on in a grip close to the body where the person would have to forcibly wrestle you to get it, that may be a preventive measure," Tita said.

    Luft said she's not sure what she could have done differently. She always has her keys ready, she said.

    "I'm usually very careful, but I didn't even suspect that he would come from behind," she said. "I don't know how I could have avoided it."

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