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Suspects in fatal purse snatching arrested

HUDSON — In the end, there was nowhere for Steve Anthony Cruz and Lisa Michelle Dillard to go — except jail.

The male and female suspects in Wednesday's purse snatching-turned-homicide of Linda Roma had no car to get away in. They had no anonymity, either, after they were caught on a surveillance video trying to use their victim's credit card an hour after the attack.

And once their identities went public Saturday morning, they had no where to hide.

"Their time was running out," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll, "they had nowhere else to go."

Cruz and Dillard were arrested Saturday afternoon along the Pasco-Hernando border just hours after their names and faces were made public that morning.

A tipster who recognized them at a 7-Eleven on U.S. 19 called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. A Hernando County deputy got there first and detained them at 3 p.m.

Their arrests were the first good news in days for the family of Roma, who deputies say died hours after struggling with Cruz for her purse in a mugging.

"They are relieved to know the people are behind bars at this time," said family friend Damon Michau. "There's no longer the fear of them getting away."

The chance of that dwindled Saturday as the pair's photos went public and deputies started fielding calls about their identities and possible whereabouts.

"It was people who know them very well who called and said 'I know those people in the surveillance video,' " said Michau. "The family just hopes they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

According to witnesses, Cruz was lurking outside the doors of the Hudson T.J. Maxx when Roma and her daughter Jennifer walked outside Wednesday at 8:53 p.m. They were shopping for the daughter's new home near her mother.

Cruz went for Linda Roma's purse, witnesses said, and in the ensuing struggle the 62-year-old fell to the ground and hit her head. Cruz then took off in a Buick Regal that deputies think was driven by Dillard.

Roma, a mother of two and a retired nurse who took care of her 78-year-old husband Ralph, died Thursday in a Tampa hospital from bleeding in the brain.

The couple celebrated their 41st anniversary on Nov. 4.

Cruz, 38, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder, which can carry up to a life sentence. Under the law, the authorities can charge Cruz with murder because the victim died in the commission of a felony.

He was also arrested on charges of violating his probation, dealing in stolen property, driving with a suspended or revoked license, petty theft and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Dillard, 39, was arrested on an outstanding warrant for two counts of violating her probation on charges of introducing contraband into a county facility and attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud. More charges are likely, the sheriff's office said.

Both Cruz and Dillard are being held in the Land O'Lakes jail without bail.

The pair didn't get far because the car used in the alleged attack turned out to be borrowed, a spokesman said, leaving them without transportation while deputies hunted for them.

Deputies were also looking for a third person seen in the surveillance video with Cruz and Dillard.

Staff writer Camille Spencer contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Suspects in fatal purse snatching arrested 11/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:02pm]
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