NEW PORT RICHEY — Shamus Lally was on his way home from Walmart when he saw his neighbor flagging him down.
"Stop! Stop!" James Yuhasz shouted. "Help!"
Lally pulled over. It was 2 a.m. Thursday on Massachusetts Avenue.
"You okay?" Lally asked.
"No," said Yuhasz, 49. "This guy just tried to steal my lawn mower."
Lally, 29, saw a stranger trying to sever a tow rope tied from a gold sedan to a riding lawn mower. Yuhasz said the man had driven into his yard to steal it. The thief didn't get far dragging the mower and pulled over a few houses down the street, giving Yuhasz enough time to run out of his house and catch up to him.
The thief used a butter knife and a wrench to cut the tow line, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report. Then he pried off his license plate and threw it in the back of his car. As he fled with his lights off, he apologized:
"I thought it was scrap. I'm sorry."
Then he sped off.
Lally jumped in his car and followed for a few blocks but lost him in the darkness.
But at the scene, authorities said, the criminal left his calling card: An Amscot receipt with his name on it.
Robert Serrano, 42, was arrested and charged with grand theft. He refused to make a statement to deputies, a sheriff's report states.
In 2006, Serrano was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years' probation for an April 2004 crash in St. Petersburg that killed Rodney L. Robinson, a 21-year-old musician and barber. Authorities said Serrano was in the driver's seat of a car when an argument broke out in a parking lot at Central Avenue and First Street. Serrano accelerated his car and hit Robinson, who died two days later. Serrano didn't stop.
At one point Thursday morning, Lally thought the thief was going to ram his car — or run over his neighbor.
"I thought he was going to try to hit the guy," said Lally, who didn't know the suspect's name or history when he spoke with the Times Thursday afternoon.
Serrano, of 9816 Rainbow Lane in Port Richey, is being held at the Pasco jail in lieu of $5,000 bail. Yuhasz told deputies the mower is worth $1,500. Lally said his neighbor has his lawn mower back, undamaged, and stored where it used to be — in the front yard.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.