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Wallet thefts and purse snatchings: treasures gone in an instant

Adrienne Owen’s Fossil wallet was stolen last year in Historic Ybor City as she leaned into her Saturn while waiting for friends.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Adrienne Owen’s Fossil wallet was stolen last year in Historic Ybor City as she leaned into her Saturn while waiting for friends.

YBOR CITY — You carry your treasures wrapped in a bundle. Perhaps you treasure the bundle itself, a fashionably designed wallet or purse. Mindlessly, you pull out ID or cash to pay for lunch.

That is, unless you're like 23-year-old Adrienne Owen. Someone stole her Fossil wallet last year in Historic Ybor City.

"First, there's the scary factor," says Owen, who is nearly 6 feet tall and never worried about such things before.

It was 2 a.m., and she was standing just outside her Saturn, with the door open.

"This guy, he pushed me from behind to the seat of my car. He pushed my arms down toward the ground," she said recently. "Then he jacked my wallet."

Owen was one of 16 people last year to have a purse snatched in the Historic Ybor area, which includes a sliver of area west of the neighborhood for the purposes of the Times' analysis. It's not a huge number, but it still ranks the prominent entertainment district No. 1 in Tampa when it comes to purse-snatchings. There were also five incidents of pickpocketing there last year.

Eighty-four purse-snatchings were scattered throughout the city in 2009, and another 37 people had their pockets picked, according to data from the Tampa Police Department.

In unincorporated Hillsborough, the University Area ranked highest for purse-snatchings and pickpockets with 29. The Sheriff's Office recorded 108 incidents in all of unincorporated Hillsborough.

Owen had driven from St. Petersburg to Ybor City on Jan. 24, 2009, to pick up friends. She was putting gas money from a friend into her wallet when the incident happened.

"I was down for the count," she said. "I'm way more aware about what's going on now."

In the unincorporated regions, Sheriff David Gee said this type of crime typically happens around malls, strip centers and grocery stores. "We don't get too much pick-pocketing, but we do get some purse-snatching," he said.

Sometimes the criminals target an event or location.

Eight people had their pockets picked at Raymond James Stadium during the Super Bowl last year.

In January, Clarence Hampton and his wife were shopping in the produce aisle at Whole Foods Market on N Dale Mabry Highway when a man knocked over a pile of broccoli, according to a police report. Hampton's wife bent to help the man pick it up, and that's when Hampton felt his wallet slip from his pocket and turned to see a woman standing behind him. His wallet was nowhere around, so he asked the woman if she took it, but she said no. She then walked away with the man who had knocked over the broccoli, the report says. The case remains unsolved.

A month earlier, a purse was snatched in that same store by someone fitting the description of the broccoli guy.

And in recent months, four purses have been stolen in the parking lot of a strip center anchored by the Big Lots on Busch Boulevard.

Inside Big Lots, a message to keep an eye on your belongings plays over the broadcast system, said Jeremy Yeomans, district loss prevention manager.

Among the latest cases, a 15-year-old rode a blue bicycle behind a 62-year-old woman and grabbed her purse. His father turned him in to police after the teen's grandmother recognized him on TV from surveillance footage of a nearby store.

Back in Ybor, Tampa police Capt. Craig Roberts has worked the area for the past two years and says it's getting safer.

"All crimes — including purse-snatchings and pickpockets — have dropped pretty steadily over the last six years since we began tracking," he said.

Officers in plain clothes patrol the alleys and parking lots surrounding the clubs, where he says people wait for victims.

"Things are not perfect," said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp.

Still, he said he rarely hears about purse-snatchings in the area. Car break-ins, fights at 3 a.m. and panhandling seem to be more of an issue. And even those have gone down "70 percent in the past five or six years," he said.

Owen had just cashed her paycheck when her wallet was stolen. She was carrying $500.

The art student at St. Petersburg College also had her debit card and several birthday gift cards from friends and family.

She called her credit card company the morning after the theft and was told her card had just been used at a store in the Westfield Brandon mall. She called the store, Marc Ecko, and talked to a manager. A woman had used it for a $200 purchase just moments earlier and was still there, filling out an application for a free magazine.

Marisela Lantigua, 21, pleaded guilty to fraudulent use of Owen's credit card and was sentenced in April 2009 to 12 months probation.

Owen said she still hasn't seen a dime of the stolen cash.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Wallet thefts and purse snatchings: treasures gone in an instant 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 3:45pm]

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