Urbana to praise citizens for help solving crimes
URBANA — Anthony Costello said when he heard a woman screaming near where he was working in downtown Urbana, he didn't think twice about helping her.
It was about mid-day on April 25 and the 27-year-old contractor was working outside at County Plaza at Broadway and Main streets.
"I heard somebody scream, 'Help, please help' and they were fighting a tug-of-war with a purse. I had to think really fast: This is not a movie. Within seconds, the purse slipped from her hand," said Costello, who sprinted in their direction.
Almost as quickly as the snatching happened, Costello caught the purse snatcher and held him until police arrived.
Costello is one of a handful of citizens and several Urbana police officers slated to be publicly lauded Friday afternoon for their outstanding contributions to solving crime in that city.
"The first words he said before I grabbed him were: 'I don't know what happened. Somebody took hold of my body.' Then I grabbed him on the back of his jacket and gave him a bear hug. I didn't know if he had a gun or a knife," said Costello.
Costello also wasn't so sure about the man's mental state.
"Once I got hold of him, his main concern was if he was going to jail. I could tell he wasn't 100 percent there. I told him to calm down. This is Urbana. Maybe they will just give you a ticket," Costello said, bluffing with the man who was about the same height but 25 pounds heavier.
Costello said the man, later identified as Scott Zumwalt, 28, of Urbana, dropped the purse a few yards before where Costello grabbed him, which was less than a block from where he had confronted the purse owner, Carol Salo, 52, of Champaign.
Salo could not be reached for this story.
She and another lady who came to her aid picked the purse off the ground and came close to where Costello was holding Zumwalt.
Costello said he continued to try to reassure Zumwalt while discreetly suggesting to the shaken women that one of them might want to call the police since he was otherwise tied up.
He said about 5 minutes elapsed before officers arrived and Zumwalt started to squirm a bit when he heard the approaching sirens.
"He said, 'Why don't you let me go?'" Costello said, explaining to Zumwalt that he couldn't do that.
After police took Zumwalt away, Costello then gave police the information they needed to get Zumwalt charged.
He has been in the county jail since his arrest awaiting trial for robbery. His next court date is July 29.
Lt. Bryant Seraphin, who supervises the department's detectives, said witnesses like Costello are critically important to police.
"At the front end of an incident when people call us to let us know about something, we can take action. If they can be a good witness, we can go even farther and build a good solid case. With regard to this case, I wouldn't ask someone to go so far as he did. That went well above and beyond what we would expect of any citizen," he said.
Seraphin said the other part of the citizen participation equation involves being available for prosecutors.
"It can't just be at the front end. We also need people to follow through, through the entire criminal justice process, meaning they should come to court and testify. We usually have a lot of citizens who will step up at the front end, but seven months later when it comes to court, we also need the citizens ... to fulfill their obligation at the back end."
"We're just asking people to be honest and provide the details that they can," said Seraphin.
Other citizens to be honored by Urbana police include:
— Raoul Rivas-Toledano, who acted as a translator for police after a restaurant robbery.
— Chuck Routh, who provided equipment to update the department's firing range free of charge.
— Shane Allen, who helped an officer who was administering CPR to a man who had been shot.
The department also planned to recognize 13 of its officers for contributions that ranged from developing training programs to exceptional work in solving cases and making arrests.