ST. PETERSBURG — Amanda Lukasko thought a hospital waiting room was a safe place. Then someone came within a foot of her while she was asleep in one and stole her purse.
It happened on Oct. 8, sometime between 3 and 7 a.m., at the Bayfront Medical Center intensive care unit, police and Lukasko said. She and her fiance had just flown into town from Wisconsin to keep vigil with her fiance's father, who was recovering from a motorcycle accident.
Stolen was Lukasko's cell phone, about $60 in cash, a debit card, vehicle insurance cards and her sense of security. The thief left her empty purse stashed in a blanket in the same room.
Several days after the theft, St. Petersburg police announced they were looking for a serial bandit who is believed to have snatched purses or wallets at downtown hospitals six times between Aug. 21 and Oct. 13.
"Of all places," said Lukasko, 20. "It's something that's really low of somebody to do out of an ICU waiting room. Really, it's something sick to do to someone who's already been through so much."
Three other incidents happened at Bayfront, 701 Sixth St. S, while single thefts occurred at All Children's Hospital, 801 Sixth St. S and St. Petersburg Maternal Fetal Medicine, a private clinic, at 625 Sixth Ave. S.
In all but Lukasko's theft, the victims were hospital employees, and police said that in several incidents the thief had access to a security code that allowed him to enter private hospital areas.
Marcey Stone, a spokeswoman for Bayfront Medical Center, said thefts inside the hospital are rare. She said hospital security maintains a delicate balance between keeping the sprawling facility open to the public and keeping it safe. Security employees use video cameras and close most doors after 8 p.m. as part of their strategy, she said.
At All Children's Hospital, spokesman Roy Adams said employees were being reminded that the hospital provides lockers for their valuables.
A video surveillance image from Bayfront provided police with a description of the suspect. Although the investigation is preliminary, detectives believe one person is responsible: a black man, 40 to 45 years old, about 6 feet tall, 200 to 220 pounds, with a bald head and a goatee. Twice he was seen wearing silver sunglasses, a sleeveless vest over a tan shirt, dark pants and a large wristwatch, police said.
Luis Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.