VALRICO — Aaron Kovacs and Cassandra Snow were driving through the parking lot of a Sweetbay grocery store Wednesday morning when they heard a cry for help.
"My wallet, my wallet," a woman yelled, pointing to a man running toward a parked red car.
The 19-year-old friends knew they had to do something. Snow swerved to block the man's vehicle. Kovacs, who works at Sweetbay, jumped out of the car to help. He tried to stop him, but the man plowed into him, pinning him against Snow's car.
"I didn't think it was that serious," said Kovacs, of Valrico. "I didn't think he would try to hit me. I was like, 'Wow, he must have had something else going on.' "
Kovacs was right.
The suspect, identified by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as Antonio A. Davis, 45, of Tampa had gone to the store on State Road 60 to cash a fraudulent check, deputies said.
While waiting for the cash, he reached into a woman's shopping cart and took a wallet from her purse, deputies said.
The woman saw what happened, deputies said, and chased Davis into the parking lot.
That's when Kovacs and Snow — and a sheriff's sergeant on duty — stepped in.
Sgt. George Mosher was driving through the parking lot and witnessed the confrontation. After Mosher flipped on emergency lights in his unmarked car, the Sheriff's Office said, the thief drove head-on into the car and continued to ram it as the sergeant called for backup.
When Detective John Graves arrived, Davis was trying to drive away, deputies said. Graves swerved his car into a light post to avoid hitting Davis.
The thief drove off.
Graves had a serious head injury but was listed in good condition Wednesday night at Tampa General Hospital, sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.
Snow, of Riverview, and Mosher weren't hurt, but Kovacs was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital. He walked out bruised and bandaged.
"We're lucky today," McKinnon said. "We're lucky no one got seriously hurt."
"Nothing is ever routine anymore," McKinnon said. "Things go from normal to life-threatening in seconds."
Kovacs' mother, Andrea Johnson, said she's proud of her son.
"He's my little hero," she said.
Johnson knows her son is lucky to walk away with only bruises. She said she would have done the same thing.
"You do what you think is necessary," she said.
Kovacs doesn't regret taking action. Although, if he had to do it again tomorrow, he said he might stay in the car.
"I'm bummed I went through all of that and she didn't get her wallet back," he said.
Deputies say they later found the getaway car abandoned near Lake Avenue and 22nd Street.
Authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, and were looking for him Wednesday night in the area where his car was found. Davis has been convicted of robbery, cocaine possession, burglary and counterfeiting, according to state records.
The warrant for his arrest charges him with aggravated assault, leaving the scene of a crash and two counts of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer.
Sarah Hutchins can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.