The shouts of an 80-year-old woman in downtown Modesto on Thursday morning led to the arrest at gunpoint of suspected purse snatchers.
California Highway Patrol officer Tom Killian, who usually spends his days working with the public rather than chasing suspects, was at Modesto Commerce Bank about 8:45 a.m. when he heard shouts for help and saw two people running.
A witness in a pickup already was in pursuit, and Killian jumped in his patrol car and gave chase, too, he said. Using the pickup as a guide, Killian said he tracked the suspects to 14th Street, where one of them dropped the purse.
Killian ordered them to stop. They didn't, so he drew his gun and held them until Modesto police arrived. He said was extremely cautious because he didn't know whether the suspects were armed or whether they had been forceful with the victim. Further investigation revealed the suspects were not armed.
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"There are all types of criminal activity but when someone preys on the elderly, that to me is the lowest form," Killian said.
The suspects' names weren't released. They were a 15-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto police spokesman.
Killian's co-workers were struck by the unlikely circumstances.
"Everybody is laughing about that," he said. "I don't work the road; I'm a public information officer."
The last time he made an arrest, he said, was at the X-Fest in July of a driver suspected of being under the influence.
Killian had been at the bank Thursday morning working on a sponsorship for the Every Fifteen Minutes program, which warns teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving. The bank is helping coordinate with other banks to defray costs for local high schools.
Killian credited the arrest to quick work by the victim and witnesses.
"I could have easily lost them," he said. "It all came to a successful conclusion because one, this elderly woman refused to be a victim and yelled and shouted. And second, these witnesses pursued these individuals, which allowed me to have knowledge of their route and take them into custody."
Killian noted the chase could have turned out differently had the woman's purse disappeared for good.
"She was really concerned. Everything she had was in there -- her wallet, her identification, her credit cards, money -- all that was in her purse, so it could have been a lot worse. Her personal property could have been used in identity theft, and her credit cards could have been misused, and so that really would have been a hardship on her."
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2324.