Purse snatcher in jail after citizens jump in to help

A man attempting to steal a woman's purse in the Albertsons located at 745 N. Dixie Drive is caught and detained inside the store and later arrested, St. George, Utah, Jan. 21, 2017 | Photo by Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A 23-year-old St. George man was detained by good Samaritans until officers arrived after he allegedly grabbed a purse out of a shopping cart at an Albertsons grocery store Saturday evening and attempted to flee. The man was arrested by officers and taken to jail.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., officers were dispatched to the Albertsons on North Dixie Drive after a report came in that a man had just stolen a purse, St. George Police Lt. Johnny Heppler said. The caller also reported that the man was being detained inside of the store by a customer.

Officers arrived within minutes and found the man – later identified as 23-year-old Hayden Michael Austin – still inside of the store and being detained by a store employee and another customer to prevent him from fleeing before officers arrived.

Officers took Austin into custody, and during a search subsequent to the arrest, the officers allegedly found drugs and drug paraphernalia on his person, Heppler said.

“The man was already under arrest for the theft at that point,” Heppler said, “and the drugs were found after, as officers were searching him before taking him to jail.”

Hayden Michael Austin of St. George, Utah, booking photo posted Jan. 21, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Officers also spoke to the victim, a 64-year-old female, who told them she placed her purse in the front section of the shopping cart while in the store and observed Austin as he quickly grabbed the purse and started running toward an exit, Heppler said.

The woman started screaming that her purse had just been stolen, according to a witness who was inside of the store at the time of the incident.

A customer shopping nearby heard the commotion and was able to tackle Austin before he was able to reach the exit and detain him while store employees called 911. At some point the customer let go of Austin, and he jumped up and started running toward the door.

Before reaching the exit another customer and a store employee grabbed Austin and were able to detain him while officers quickly made their way to the store, Heppler said.

“I gotta tell you, I’m thankful for the citizens and the store employee who observed the problem, and then stepped in and helped out until we could get there.”

Austin was booked into Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility and faces several charges, including theft and drug possession, both class A misdemeanors, and possession of paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor. Bail for his release is scheduled at $4,580.

“Thankfully, there were no injuries associated with this incident whatsoever,” Heppler said.

Nancy Keane, Southwest Division director of public relations and government affairs for Albertsons, Safeway and Vons, was contacted and said that the company is unable to comment while the investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

More than 20,000 theft crimes were reported in Utah in 2014, and the value of the items stolen totaled more than $23.4 million dollars. Nearly $176,000 of that resulted from purse snatching alone, according to a 2014 Crime in Utah report, which included the most recent data available.

Situational awareness is one of the key components in enhancing personal safety and in protecting valuables and belongings while shopping.

“First and foremost, always be aware of your surroundings,” Heppler said, “and make sure you are not leaving your valuables where they might be vulnerable to theft.”

Heppler also said that one tip that can add a level of security for women while shopping is to secure the purse or bag to the cart using the safety straps that are designed to secure small children. By running the safety strap through the handle of a purse before buckling the safety strap together, it secures the purse to the cart making it much more difficult for someone to run away with it.

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • Mean Momma January 22, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Wow… what a coward. Junkies suck. To the customers and employees who stopped this guy, a huge pat on the back! That’s my Albertsons and I am proud to shop there! Good job!

  • [email protected] January 23, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    As another customer of that store I must commend the customers for jumping in to apprehend this creep. As we know from national news, store employees are unlikely to do anything, because that is a violation of their store’s nationwide loss prevention policy.
    Memo to customers, in general, perhaps keeping your valuables under tighter control would avoid these tempting opportunities…..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.