Thief picked wrong grandma

ARLINGTON — It was a crime of opportunity.

The thief watched JoAnne VanLeuven get out of her car and fill her arms with eight hula hoops, five jump ropes, plastic golf clubs and a box of flowerpots her day-care kids will use to make Mother’s Day gifts.

What she did

n’t get was her green purse.

So with her arms occupied and her head turned, the thief grabbed her purse Wednesday.

He didn’t count on the fit grandmother in a cooking apron giving chase.

Or to keep up with him, for that matter.

A co-worker called 911 as VanLeuven took off from behind the day care’s white picket fence.

VanLeuven, who owns Kidzle B. Kids in Arlington, raced after him from the front steps. She hoofed it down a dirt trail that cuts through some woods and followed her quarry into a motel parking lot.

He disappeared around a corner and slipped into one of the upstairs units.

VanLeuven stood her ground and waited.

Arlington police arrived and retrieved her purse from one of the rooms. Based on the information she supplied, they were able to identify a suspect — an Everett man, 21, who recently was released from the Snohomish County Jail. Patrol officers know who they’re after, Arlington city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.

Another man in the same motel room was arrested on a warrant.

VanLeuven’s family said the bad guy picked the wrong mark.

“The moral of the story is: ‘Don’t mess with a grandma in an apron,'” said her husband, Martin VanLeuven.

Her adult children said the thief would have been in a heap of trouble had their mom been armed with a rolling pin. One of her sons is a former state champion in wrestling.

One man walking through the motel parking lot asked VanLeuven if she was a bounty hunter.

Had VanLeuven given it more thought, she might not have run after the man, who is 30 years younger than she. She understands the danger and the risk she took.

Her snap decision to pursue the thief was based on a mix of adrenaline and memories of others’ misfortune, she said.

She knows child-care centers are a popular target of thieves who prey on parents’ preoccupation with their children’s needs.

In the back of her mind on Wednesday afternoon were other hard-working moms whose purses have been stolen in the seconds it takes to drop off a child a few feet from their cars.

VanLeuven has seen it too often over the past 16 years.

“They have cried,” she said. “They have been devastated. They have had their life in their purse. There are a lot of single moms out there doing their very best. That’s what I was thinking about.”

Fate also might have played a role.

VanLeuven, who has four children and two grandchildren, said she tries to run a few miles on a treadmill each day.

On the day of the chase, she had on leather slip-on shoes. That was lucky.

“Usually, I wear heels,” she said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

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