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EGF man thwarts purse snatcher

Kevin Jerik was sitting in his pickup truck outside Hugo's grocery store in East Grand Forks about 4:15 p.m. Monday, waiting for his wife to call him back with a final list, when he saw something not right.

He fixed it.

"I saw this guy running across the parking lot and thought, 'well, that was weird.' And he grabbed this old lady and threw her to the ground and grabbed her purse."

"I said, 'Fine, they are not going to take anybody's purse when I'm around.' "

Jerik, 44, who stands 6 feet, 1 inch and weighs 230 and works at the North Dakota State Mill, jumped out of his pickup truck.

The purse snatcher was about 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, in his early- to mid-20s, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, Jerik said. He had jumped out of an older red sedan, driven by a bald man who was waiting for him and watching him attack the elderly woman.

Despite being knocked down, the lady fought back, keeping a tight hold on her purse in the icy parking lot. Her attacker slipped and fell.

"That's when I got to him," Jerik said. "I grabbed hold of the guy 'til he punched me in the groin. He punched me in the face a couple of times."

Jerik said he put the guy "in a reverse chicken-wing."

"I grabbed his arm, and kind of had his head up against my chest. He was facing me and I had his arms curled behind his back, with his head pushed against my chest."

The purse snatcher's driver in the little red car then got involved.

"The other guy tried to back up and hit me, so he could get his buddy away from me. He was the one that hollered 'Let's get out of here.' "

Both men appeared to be Hispanics in their early- to mid-20s, Jerik told police.

The car they fled in looked like a mid-'80s Toyota Celica or Nissan Sentra and had no license plates, Jerik said.

"It was red with black markings," he said.

Jerik didn't know the lady who kept her purse, thanks to him.

"She said she wasn't hurt."

Neither was he, really, he said. He finished buying a big load of groceries after police took down this story.

"No big deal. I've been hit by bigger people than him. My teeth feel a little sore and loose. I will put ice on it later."

Police think the same two guys robbed a nearby liquor store 30 minutes earlier, said Sgt. Mike Anderson.

"About 3:45 p.m., Duke's Liquor Store (1502 Central Ave. N.E.) had someone come into the store and steal three bottles of wine and leave in a vehicle, a Toyota Celica is how (the store employee) described it, a red, older car," Anderson said. "We are operating under the assumption they might be related."

Jerik said he did not detect the smell of alcohol on the purse snatcher.

Anderson said in both cases the suspected thieves were described as Hispanic males, one wearing a gray sweatshirt.

While there have been several burglaries of businesses and homes recently in Grand Forks, the purse snatching at Hugo's on the East Side is unusual, Anderson said.

"This is the first strong-armed robbery we have had in a quite a while."

By about 7:30 p.m., East Grand Forks police had a line on the car, maybe, dumped in Grand Forks and were checking it out, Anderson said.

Thanks to Jerik, police don't need to look for a purse as well.

Before 10 p.m., police were pretty sure they had the vehicle in question, Anderson said. It was found in Grand Forks.

There were two or three people in the vehicle when it left Hugo's after the attempted purse snatching, he said.

One possible suspect came over from Grand Forks voluntarily and is being questioned now by police. Information is being discovered on another possible suspect, maybe two, he said.

"Things are looking pretty good at this point," Anderson said just before 10 p.m.