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Lutz man follows instinct, chases mail thieves

Published Sep. 4, 2005

After watching two women in a black Nissan pull up to his mailbox Tuesday morning and take out his outgoing mail, Paul Haenlein began to follow them.

"Most of it was instinct," said the 33-year-old father of three. "I just did it because I get involved."

Haenlein jumped into his 2000 Toyota Tundra and cruised behind the women as they drove down Ridge Hollow Lane. After a block, the women picked up speed.

Haenlein phoned Hillsborough sheriff's deputies for help.

He and the women traveled north on Livingston Street, then headed east on County Line Road to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The women then jumped on Interstate 75 south and exited off E Fowler Avenue.

Haenlein said he struggled to keep up with the Nissan as they dodged cars heading west. The chase ended abruptly when deputies blocked the women's vehicle at 109 Avenue and 22nd Street N.

Britainy Paige Townsel, 28, of 9618 Hidden Oaks Circle, and Tiffany Diane Williams, 20, of 18638 San Rio Circle, were charged with petty theft and credit card theft. Townsel also was charged with forgery and remained in the Orient Road Jail late Wednesday without bail. Williams was held in lieu of $2,000 bail.

The two women have had previous drug and theft arrests within the past five years.

This wasn't the first time Haenlein has chased alleged thieves. Nine years ago, he helped police catch two armed robbers who tied up patrons in a local store. Haenlein chased one of the men on foot.

"Again, that was instinct," said Haenlein, a waterproofing contractor. He thinks citizens should get more involved.

Deputies recovered an envelope opener, a bundle of mail, a forged check and an unknown amount of stolen checks.

Haenlein said he helped retrieve 59 pieces of mail, including checks for mortgage and tax payments.

Mail theft is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison, said postal inspector Richard Abbazia. He said the mail has been retrieved as evidence and the victims will be contacted within 48 hours.