Bravest nab suspect in purse snatch

NY Daily News - October 02, 2006

by TODD MAISEL, ADAM PLAYFORD and ERNIE NASPRETTO

Suspected thief Robert Harris learned the hard way: If you aim to snatch a purse, don't do it in a supermarket packed with firefighters.

Six of New York's Bravest took on the role of New York's Finest yesterday after a woman told them she'd been robbed as she shopped at a Pathmark in Brooklyn's Atlantic Center Mall about 12:30 p.m.

The fast-moving firefighters from Ladder 132 in Prospect Heights interrupted their own shopping to chase Harris, tackling the 25-year-old as he tried to escape, cops said.

"Once again - they're heroes," said a jubilant Elizabeth Ortiz, 32, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who was with her 5-year-old son Edward in the Fort Greene store.

Ortiz said she was stunned when the purse snatcher reached into her cart and grabbed her bag.

"I told the firemen at the checkout counter what happened, and that was it. They were out the door," Ortiz said.

Firefighters Mat Welsh, Jesse Loughlin, Anthony Chaimowitz and Mike Schiotis chased the thief on foot, as Lt. Robert Adams and Firefighter John Caddell jumped into their rig and followed alongside.

The fire truck was able to cut Harris off at Hanson Place and S. Elliott Place, setting him up for a group tackle, officials said.

"We're good in the sprint, but not so good on the distance," Welsh said. "You're running with an extra 25 pounds of gear. Your legs go numb after 100 yards."

The firefighters held Harris until the arrival of 88th Precinct cops, who arrested him. Harris, of Brooklyn, was charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

Ortiz's bag was recovered, officials said.

"We're glad she didn't get hurt," Chaimowitz said.