TRINITY — Two forces seemed to be at work on Lori Holding Wednesday afternoon: intuition bordering on ESP and a mother's compassion.
Holding's husband, Greg, a firefighter in St. Pete Beach, was working out at the Trinity YMCA that day when his gym bag went missing from the locker room. Once he got out to the parking lot, he realized his 2004 Toyota Corolla was gone, too.
His wife jumped into action, cancelling credit cards and alerting the neighbors. Then they got a curious phone call from AAA auto club, letting them know that someone had found a shopping bag with Greg Holding's personal belongings, including his AAA card.
He went to get his stuff, happy to have anything back.
He came back home exhausted. Lori couldn't rest. She wanted to return to the spot where the shopping bag was found. She didn't want to sit at home and be a victim.
Greg said he was too tired. Lori insisted.
"I just felt this pulling to go to this area, for whatever reason," she said.
What follows is her recollection of what happened next:
The couple, married for 26 years, set out in a neighbor's borrowed car from their home in Trinity. They looped through a Wal-Mart parking lot, then a Target. Just before dark, they reached a stop sign at Grand Boulevard.
Lori glanced to her right: "I said, there's your car right there."
She called 911. Greg, in disbelief, drove past the stop sign, then turned around and parked so they could watch their car. The windows are tinted, but they could tell someone was inside.
Some time went by, Lori said, maybe 10 minutes.
"We're sitting there and he cranks up the car. So now he's on the move," she said.
The driver headed toward U.S. 19 and turned right. The Toyota then pulled into a gas station and parked in the last spot. Lori told her husband to block it in.
He got out and walked up to the driver's side. The window was part-way down. He exchanged pleasantries with the man in the seat.
How ya doing? Where'd you get this car?
The driver told him he bought it a couple days ago.
Greg leveled with him: "You didn't buy this car a couple days ago. This is my car. You stole it today. Those keys in your hand are my keys, and I want them."
Lori said the man then told them he was already wanted on a warrant.
She felt an upswell of anger.
"I said 'Do you know how hard we work for our money?' He just kind of looked at me," she said. "I know he didn't expect any of this to happen. He didn't expect to see the faces and attach them to the crime. But I wanted him to see the faces."
A deputy arrived soon, and the forces of the law took over. The driver, she said, admitted stealing the car and spending some of the money he found in a wallet. The arrest report says that, too.
It was Lori's daughter's money. She got it for her 15th birthday.
But as Lori waited in the gas station parking lot, her family's car safely back in their possession, her anger gave way to sadness.
She learned the man under arrest was the same age as her son, 18. He had spent the stolen money on razors and boxer shorts — "nothing extravagant," she said.
Sitting in her neighbor's car, Lori found a notepad and pen and wrote a note. She's the writing type: In her job at a radiology clinic, she often writes encouraging notes to patients, especially the young women who come in for cancer treatments. Her co-worker calls her "Miss Hallmark."
She walked over to the sheriff's cruiser, where the man sat in the back, and knocked on the window. He wouldn't look at her.
She held the note up to the glass.
"I told him to believe in himself," she said of the note. "I said someday you'll have your own car because you worked hard for it to buy it for yourself. And I underlined 'you.' "
She knows it seems a little crazy. She wonders if the man in the cruiser thought so.
Deputies arrested Douglas Deckard of Lecanto on charges of burglary, grand theft auto, marijuana possession and violating probation. He remained in jail Friday with no bond.
Lori and Greg were tucked into bed by 11:30 that night, mere hours after the whole ordeal began.
She plans to keep tabs on what happens to Deckard. Her son suggested the family should keep writing to him.
"So he knows that somebody cares."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.