Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

'Guardian angels' come to woman's rescue during robbery in Publix parking lot in Seminole

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SEMINOLE — It was a typical Publix trip, until the career criminal reached for her purse.

Rosanna Lynd unpacked her groceries and slid into the driver's seat of her 2010 Toyota Highlander. The parking lot across from the Seminole City Center mall on 113th Street was characteristically busy on Sunday afternoon. Right before the 44-year-old woman could depart, a man opened the driver's side door, reaching over her for her purse.

Lynd said she screamed, honked, kicked and punched him. Sometime while they struggled, the robber pulled a 4-inch pocket knife and stabbed her three times — twice in the left leg and once in the abdomen, she said.

If it weren't for the actions of three strangers — an auto mechanic, a maintenance technician and a laser operator for a metal fabrication plant — it could have gone much worse.

Instead, three good Samaritans put their lives at risk, running toward an unknown danger to help a stranger. None knew their Sunday afternoon would include getting stabbed, wrestling a criminal to the ground after a wild foot chase or holding the man at gunpoint until police arrived.

"They didn't have to partake," Lynd said. "They could have turned their heads."

Police arrived minutes later and arrested Bobby Martin Watson, 49, on charges of armed robbery and three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

The St. Petersburg man has a lengthy criminal past, including felony convictions for cocaine, robbery and grand theft auto. Since his first trip to prison in 1989, he has spent more than a third of his life behind bars in seven trips.

Pinellas sheriff's Cpl. Dan DiFrancesco said the Sheriff's Office recommends citizens to be good witnesses and observers and to not get involved with crimes. However, in this case he acknowledged the good ending.

"We are thankful that a very volatile situation did not end in further tragedy," he said.

Without the help of these strangers, Lynd said she feared Watson may have hurt her more.

"They were my guardian angels," she said.

• • •

Christopher McMann, 44, of St. Petersburg dropped his girlfriend off at the Publix entrance and was looking for a parking spot when his acquaintance Donald Rush, 40, pointed out what looked like an assault.

McMann said he parked, heard a woman screaming and ran to the scene.

McMann gripped the Highlander's door and rammed it into the back of the robber's legs a few times to little effect. When he yanked the man out of the SUV by his shirt, he came swinging with a knife, scraping McMann's face before stabbing him in the upper back and running away.

"I often wondered to myself when I see reports like this what I would do in that situation," McMann said. "I guess now I know."

McMann stayed with Lynd to check on her. Meanwhile, the robber bolted across seven lanes of 113th Street to the mall parking lot. The robber was running free until he encountered a man looking to get lunch with his family.

Travis Jones was headed to Applebee's with his three kids, mother and niece when he saw a man sprinting across moving traffic.

The 31-year-old Seminole resident said he heard a "blood-curdling scream" pleading for someone to stop that man. Jones tried to slow the runner down by cutting off his route. They came face-to-face and Jones pushed him to the ground. Using his 240 pounds as leverage, he laid on top of the runner and put him in a headlock.

At some point in their tussle, the thief stabbed him in the stomach.

"I'd do it again tomorrow," he said, chuckling, "but the only thing is I'd look at his hands prior to approaching him."

Jones drew on his "punk kid" childhood, where he got into occasional street fights and had an older brother to deal with, he said.

A technician for Treasure Island's public works department, he said he had no interest in being the neighborhood watch guy.

"I was just a guy walking in to go get lunch with my family," he said.

The situation seemed under control with the burly Jones lying on top of the robber. But then Jones heard one of his daughters start screaming. And he looked up to see a man running with a gun pointed in his general direction.

When he flew down from Pennsylvania, Rush was expecting a weekend of beaches, fishing and good food — not to be holding a criminal at gunpoint.

While McMann was helping Lynd, Rush reached for his friend's purse. He knew she had a concealed carry permit. He grabbed the gun and dashed across 113th Street.

When he caught up, Jones was already wrestling the man on the ground. Rush said the man had a knife in his extended right hand while Jones was on top of him. He yelled at him to drop it as he pointed the gun at him. He dropped the knife, he said.

Police arrived a few minutes later, handcuffing Watson and relieving the spontaneous vigilantes. DiFrancesco said it could have gone worse — when deputies see someone pointing a gun at two people on the ground, they don't know the good guy from the bad guy.

"We're just glad the outcome is what it is, this person behind bars," he said.

McMann got two staples in his back for his stab wound, Jones needed a tetanus shot and Lynd had surgery Tuesday and has since been released from the hospital.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Dunn at adunn@tampabay.com. Follow @AndrewE_Dunn.

   
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