TAMPA — Patricia Smith has had a string of bad luck. Her man and their house are gone.
"Two weeks before alimony is supposed to start, he says he lost his job," she said.
Five days ago, she went to the Home Depot on Memorial Highway and Hillsborough Avenue. All she wanted was a colorful plant.
"You can see what a wreck I'm living in," Smith said Monday, surrounded by boxes in her new Waterchase house. "I just wanted to go, get a stupid little plant and add some pleasantness to my new surroundings."
Smith was placing the potted vinca in her SUV when a man on a bike swiped her purse. In an instant, she lost her driver's license, check book, credit cards, eyeglasses, brush and coupons, along with a little cash.
Smith, 59, started screaming and running after the bike. She couldn't keep up.
The man left the parking lot and went down Memorial Highway toward the Veterans Expressway.
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John Murray, 46, was on break from his job as a customer service representative for Bright House Networks when he heard Smith's screams.
"She was visibly upset, crying and in a bit of a panic," said Murray, a divorced father of two who lives in Citrus Park.
Smith gave him a description of the bandit.
"So I headed out of the parking lot," he said. "It was just a split-second decision, a natural instinct."
In times like these, he figures, people should help out each other.
Murray didn't see anything and was about to give up when he spotted the purse snatcher pedaling on Baycrest Drive.
"At that point, I sped up, leaned on the horn big time, rolled down the window and said, 'You better drop that right now,' " he said. "And he did without hesitation. He dropped it right in the middle of the street, circled around me, then took off."
Smith arrived on the scene a short time later. "Everything was in it," she said. "Every dirty tissue. Every little scrap of anything. All the little notes I had on scrap paper. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have much cash, but what I had was in it."
All she wanted that day was something to brighten her life.
She didn't know that something would turn out to be John Murray.
"It just sort of renewed my faith in people," she said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5303.