TAMPA — Note to would-be criminals: The person you attack in a store parking lot could be anybody. Including the wife of a Tampa police major who oversees nearly 300 cops.
That's what happened outside a Carrollwood department store Wednesday night when someone approached Dawn Newman from behind.
Newman, 49, told sheriff's deputies she had just finished Christmas shopping at Bealls when she felt something push into her back.
"Don't scream and you won't get hurt,'' she said the man told her.
Newman thought it might be someone she knew playing a prank. When she turned and didn't recognize the man, she screamed. The man initially tried to grab her but later ran away, Newman told deputies.
Her husband, Tampa police Maj. John Newman, told reporters Thursday that the episode taught him that anyone could be a crime victim.
"I always tell (officers), 'Treat the victim like they're your family. Like it's your mom or your dad or your wife,' " he said. "And yesterday, it was. And that's a lousy, lousy feeling."
Surveillance video shows a man lingering outside the store for nearly 20 minutes before following Newman into the parking lot. The suspect had not been caught as of late Thursday .
He is described as a white man in his 50s, 5 feet 9, 160 to 180 pounds, with sandy blond hair and a scruffy beard. He was last seen Wednesday night near a Walgreens at Dale Mabry Highway and Northdale Boulevard.
Hillsborough sheriff Sgt. Trey Hassell said deputies see a spike in such crimes during the Christmas shopping season. He said Newman did exactly the right things — drew attention to herself and got a detailed description of the attacker. After initially chasing the man, she allowed him to run off.
Hassell said shoppers should be extra watchful for suspicious people when walking to and from their car. He also suggested women keep money and other valuables in their pockets instead of their purses.
John Newman, the police major, said his wife was shaken up by the attack but was not physically hurt. He's thankful she wasn't a victim of a more serious crime.
"We're going to put it out of our mind," he said. "But it'll definitely be something we'll talk about during Christmas dinner, I assure you."
Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1 (800) 873-8477.
Lee Logan can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.