GREENFIELD — When a man grabbed the purse of a 79-year-old woman as she left the Pick 'n Save store here, a bystander from West Allis did more than tell police the crook "went that-a-way."
The bystander turned hero by dogging the fleeing thief for roughly three miles. With his help, police caught the alleged purse snatcher, who told authorities he needed money to buy heroin.
Neither the thief nor the woman who drove him from the scene said they realized the West Allis man was following them, said Greenfield Police Sergeant Eric Lindstrom. The suspected thief, Chad Schlaikowski, 36, was charged April 13 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with robbery. The woman, 32, was not charged. According to the criminal complaint, they told police they are heroin addicts. His next court date is April 20.
Lindstrom paid tribute to the 39-year-old West Allis man who went above and beyond in not only calling 911 but in keeping police aware of the suspect's whereabouts.
"Obviously, the witness was key to solving the crime," Lindstrom said.
The vehicle had no license plate, although the car itself was not stolen, he said.
"We get calls from people who see the vehicle flee," but it's very unusual for someone to follow a suspect car, he said. "He went the extra mile."
The West Allis man declined to be interviewed. The victim, Sylvia Timmler, 79, of Milwaukee, had plenty to say. She shops at the Pick 'n Save, 4279 S. 76th St., at least once a week.
Timmler was leaving the store with her groceries about 4 p.m. Monday, April 10, when the thief came up behind her.
"I didn't see him coming at all," she said. "He put his right arm around my chest and was hanging onto my shoulder and he took my purse so easily."
The thief left in a car. The West Allis man called 911 and took off after the fleeing vehicle. Timmler mistakenly believed the West Allis man was being helped by another person.
"I think they probably took their lives in their hands because the robber could have had a gun," she said. "They were very brave. I'm so thankful.
"I think it's fantastic that they were willing to do that at their own risk. That's marvelous. I would call it a miracle."
Police called it great citizen-police cooperation. Thanks to the West Allis man's bulletins on their whereabouts, police were able to follow the suspect car onto eastbound I-894 and perform what the suspects thought was a routine traffic stop, Lindstrom said.
Police pulled the car over on the Loomis Road exit. The couple had no firearms, he said.
"The caller was very specific about where he was and gave a vehicle description," LIndsrom said.
He estimated the West Allis man pursued the suspects between five and eight minutes.
Greenfield police will invite the West Allis man to their annual awards event where they want to honor him for his actions.
In applauding the West Allis man, Lindstrom offered a few cautions for anyone wishing to assist police in a similar manner.
Call police and then keep your distance from the suspect vehicle. Do not interact with anyone in a suspect vehicle in any way. If they stop at a traffic light, you can stop behind them. But if they stop and get out of the car, game's over, especially if they walk toward your car. If they go into a house, a spotter can let police know that, but under no circumstances should a spotter get out of the car to investigate.