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Bike theft arrest leads to serial cigarette thief, St. Petersburg police say

ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Benedict hopped on his purple bike at Sunken Gardens on Monday and headed to Central Avenue for his lunch break.

It was an ordinary day.

The 38-year-old gardener put his bike next to a window at the lunch spot. He had his bike lock, but thought he didn't need it.

"I could see it right through the window," he said. "I figured I was right there on Central right next to the Municipal Services Building. Who's going to take it?"

Anthony Keith Crittenton, 38, walked away with it minutes later, police said.

Then Benedict leaped into action.

Benedict said he jumped over the counter and took off running. It was his second bike; the first one was stolen from his courtyard two months earlier.

"That's my only mode of transportation," he said.

He chased Crittenton for nearly a block before tackling him. A pedestrian called the police.

Benedict thought the man was going to fight him for the bike. Luckily, he said, Crittenton only started yelling.

"He said he was going home to get a gun and he was going to kill me," Benedict said.

He kept following the would-be thief from a distance until police arrived. Crittenton tried to elude officers, who later found him hiding inside a vacant house on Fifth Street S, police said.

But the story doesn't stop there.

Police say they linked Crittenton to a string of convenience store thefts.

He apparently likes Newport cigarettes, because police say he stole 11 cartons of them and two half-gallons of gin in 10 separate "grab and go" thefts from St. Petersburg stores that date to mid May, said St. Petersburg police spokesman George Kajtsa.

According to police reports, Crittenton entered the stores and pretended to buy beer or lottery tickets as well as the cigarettes. Sometimes he asked only for the cartons.

While the cashier rang up the sale, he grabbed the cigarettes and ran, Kajtsa said.

Police reports say Crittenton admitted stealing the cartons and gin after he was arrested.

Crittenton, who is listed as a transient, was arrested on charges of grand theft, resisting an officer and 10 counts of petty theft.

Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or jdalexander@sptimes.com.

Bike theft arrest leads to serial cigarette thief, St. Petersburg police say 07/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 12:01am]

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