The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 25, 2013

Ashtabula cab driver tackles, captures alleged purse snatcher

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — A purse snatcher struck outside a dollar store Wednesday, but a Good Samaritan went above and beyond duty.

As Ashtabula native Janice Williams opened the door to her car outside the Dollar Tree, 1144 W. Prospect Road, a young man approached her.

“He asked for money and I said, ‘No, I’m sorry I don’t have any extra money,’” she said. “Then he grabbed the car door, flung it open. I told him, ‘You get your hands off my car!’”

Williams still had her wallet in her hand from shopping in the store, something she later called, “a big mistake.”

The assailant grabbed the wallet but Williams held on and a struggle ensued.

“I screamed at the top of my lungs,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let go. As I’m screaming and screaming, he’s yanking and yanking.”

Two men who were sitting in their cars in the Dollar Tree parking lot, Joe Roth and Wayne Baker Jr., heard Williams’ pleas for help and got out of their cars.

That’s when the purse snatcher grabbed the wallet hard, breaking Williams’ little finger and took off on foot.

Roth and Baker followed him, but could not keep up with him.

About this time, City Cab driver, Robert Brecker, 39, of Ashtabula, hears Williams screaming and at the same time sees a man running east across the former Tops store parking lot.

“(City Cab drivers) park by Tops all the time, waiting for calls,” he said.

Then he sees Williams jump in her car and follow the assailant, who’s running for his life — over curbs and onto sidewalks to avoid her.

Much to his dismay, curbs, speed bumps, sidewalks and even landscaping didn’t deter Williams — she remained in hot pursuit.

“I thought, ‘I’ll follow her, I better help her,’” Brecker said. “She’s honking the horn, she’s screaming at him.”

Once the three of them crossed West Avenue over by Monroe Muffler, Brecker sprinted toward him and using his super hero impression, he caught up with him and tackled him.

“He made a flying leap on top of him,” Williams said. “He was phenomenal. He was a hero.”

Brecker said he ran sprints in the early 1990’s at Ashtabula High School.

“I was on the varsity track team,” he said.

Brecker then sat on the suspect until Ashtabula police arrived on the scene and transported the suspect to the city jail.

Williams suffered a broken finger and bruising from the altercation. Her car needs a little work, too, but her husband, Ed Williams, said a car can be repaired.

He said he’s proud of the way she defended herself, but he’s terrified about what could have happened.

“She was very brave,” he said.

When Brecker and Janice Williams met Thursday for the first time since the incident, Brecker gave Williams a bouquet of flowers.

He said he went into Flowers on the Avenue to buy the flowers and when he explained what happened and who they were for, they gave him the flowers for free.

“To remind you good things happen and you don’t have to be afraid,” he said as he handed her the flowers. “I’m happy to have helped you.”

Williams cried and they hugged.

She gave him a plaque that reads, “World’s Best Cabbie,” for his bravery and honor, and two tickets to dinner Thursday night.

Brecker is married with five children, ages 12 to 18. He said his wife will love to go out to dinner.

The Williams have two grown sons and a grandson.

“I was thinking about that grandson when all this was going on,” Janice Williams said. “When it was over, I started thinking about how Ed and I have traveled all over the world and nothing bad has ever happened. Then to have something like this happen in my hometown is horrible and sad.

“Yet, there are still wonderful people in the world, and thankfully, in Ashtabula, like Robert Brecker.”