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Robbery victim, Norwalk police chief grateful for Good Samaritans' unplanned teamwork

Cary Ashby • Jun 14, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Susan Laycock said she thinks the people who helped catch the robber who stole her purse are nothing less than Good Samaritans.

"That's what I thought. You don't know who will be able to help you," she said. "I do want to thank them again."

The soft-spoken, small-framed woman was referring to the events of Jan. 17, 2013. That was when six Good Samaritans jumped to action -- a sequence of events that led to the speedy arrest and eventual conviction of Glenn C. Pratt II, who stole Laycock's purse.

Pratt, now, 33, is serving a two-year prison at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution for robbery. He is doing the sentence consecutive to a 17-month Erie County term for domestic violence.

"(I) just hope this young man won't give up on himself," Laycock said.

"I don't normally recommend someone chase a robber, but I think that's saying a lot for the kind of people we have (in Norwalk)," Norwalk Police Chief Dave Light said. "Something like this is above and beyond."

The chief and Laycock recently thanked five of the six Good Samaritans as they received Chief's Awards -- William Roberts, Crystal Jackson, Tamara Cerilli, Joey Santiago and Sean Steffanni. Darryl Moore, who helped Santiago and Steffanni chase down the robber, didn't attend the informal recognition.

Light said his department budget provides for commendations for people's acts that significantly help law enforcement.

"This fit the bill perfectly," the chief added. "You did everything but put him in handcuffs."

Light said the circumstances leading to Pratt's arrest couldn't have come out any better if everyone involved had practiced their parts beforehand.

"This thing fell together like a well-oiled machine," Light added.

Catching the bad guy

Roberts was at Schild's IGA when he saw Pratt acting suspiciously. Roberts also saw the defendant grab the purse from Laycock, the victim, as she was walking to her car. Roberts was taking his groceries to his vehicle when he noticed the soon-to-be robber.

"He was just standing against the fence and moving back and forth," said Roberts, who recalled Pratt was studying him and the victim. "He looked very, very suspicious."

Roberts heard the victim yell and also saw Pratt grab the purse.

"There was bodily contact. ... It looked like something was ripped out of her hands," said Roberts, who called 9-1-1.

"I have two artificial hips. I took two steps and knew I wasn't going to chase him. I got on the phone real quick," he said Tuesday with a chuckle.

Pratt talked briefly about the robbery during his Feb. 21, 2013 plea/sentencing hearing in Huron County Common Pleas Court. He told Judge Jim Conway he was surprised how strong the then-63-year-old victim was.

"I thought it was going to be a quick thing. I thought it was going to be a snatch and grab," Pratt said.

The victim was asked Tuesday if she was scared when Pratt snatched her purse.

"I wasn't scared all the way through. I thought that was God being with me all the way through," she said.

Jackson and Cerilli were working at Tammy's Salon of Style when they noticed Pratt stalking the victim before he grabbed Laycock's purse. The pair also witnessed the robbery and confronted Pratt as he ran past the salon.

"He appeared startled as he was removing Ms. Laycock's wallet from her purse and took off running again. There were several Columbia Gas employees behind their building working who were alerted and gave chase," Light said.

Pratt was "drug sick," he said, and obviously was desperate to get drugs any way he could.

Cerilli said she jumped in to help because what the robber did isn't right.

"I hope someone would do it for one of my family. I would do it again," she said.

Santiago assisted Moore and Steffanni with chasing down the robber. After Steffanni demanded Pratt give him the victim's purse, the robber, who had soiled himself during the chase, was forced to sit on the stoop of a business. The trio surrounded Pratt as he caught his breath.

"I yelled at him like he was one of my kids," Santiago said Tuesday. "We kept him in place until he got ambitious and he decided to roll on us."

Steffanni, of ACC Norwalk, was in his office when he heard Jackson yelling to several nearby Columbia Gas employees about the robbery. After he saw several people chasing Pratt, Steffanni joined the pursuit.

"It wasn't planned; it just worked out," Steffanni said. "If it weren't for everyone involved, it wouldn't have happened."

Steffanni acted out of instinct.

"There was no thought -- absolutely no thought," he said.

It wasn't until after the incident Steffanni realized he put himself in a potentially dangerous situation.

"He wasn't the strongest or healthiest guy," said Steffanni, who when he saw Pratt, realized "he was more scared than (he was) a threat."

Steffanni retrieved the purse, which Pratt dropped about 20 yards away. Steffanni gave the purse and the wallet to Jackson. She returned them to Laycock, the victim, who was waiting at the salon.

"After getting the purse back and being confronted by these men, Mr. Pratt took off running again was eventually apprehended," Light said.

Steffanni got in front of Pratt and cut him off in the VFW parking lot. Capt. Mike Conney and other officers arrested Pratt a few minutes later near the VFW.

'Perfect storm of teamwork'

"The apprehension and successful conviction of this subject would not have been possible had it not been for ordinary citizens stepping up to do extraordinary things. Everyone involved unknowingly created a 'perfect storm' of teamwork at the perfect time to apprehend Mr. Pratt," Light said.

"All these people swarmed in on him like a pack of bees," the chief added. "All this happened as police officers were closing in."

The chief said Pratt must have thought "this was the wrong day for this to happen."

Light said it's very uncommon in Norwalk to see someone snatch a purse off someone. The chief pointed out his officers usually receive reports of thieves grabbing purses from vehicles.

Steffanni, who chased the robber, agreed with Light's assessment that if this had happened in a city such as Cleveland, people likely wouldn't have helped the victim.

"Everything happened in the right order and it was just unplanned luck," Steffanni said.

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