When Jeff Zablocki heard the theft alarm, he didn't stop to put his coffee down. He started running like Jackie Chan. A young guy in a floppy coat bolted through the front door at the Home Depot in Dundalk, and Zablocki, who just happened to be there to buy some lumber, took after him -- with the cup of coffee in his hand.
About 50 feet into his run, Zablocki dropped the coffee and cranked up his foot speed. He chased the floppy coat across the parking lot. Packs of flashlight batteries came flying out of the shoplifter's pockets and bounced off the asphalt.
"Duracells," Zablocki recalls. "He was throwing them as he ran. He had numerous packs."
Zablocki, a 34-year-old city firefighter, lunged and tackled the guy, who was in his 20s.
"Let me go, you can have all the stuff!" the thief barked. Zablocki held him down until some store employees arrived.
"It was probably a stupid thing to do," Zablocki says, "but I didn't stop to think about it."
Zablocki might have read the report last month in this newspaper that some shoplifters are becoming more violent, fighting back when they're detained. A shoplifting suspect at Hecht's in Marley Station kicked a security guard in the stomach and ribs during a struggle. In another incident, a fleeing shoplifter tried to run down a guard with a car.
At Home Depot, Jeff Zablocki got off with just a small rip in his pants. Nothing was otherwise injured.
Unless you include his sense of justice and spirit of involvement. "They didn't arrest the guy," Zablocki says.
"They didn't call the police. They took [the suspect] in the store and took the merchandise, then let him go. They said it wasn't worth their time or money to prosecute him. I continued on with my business, but I tell you, it took me so far aback I almost felt like shopping at Hechinger. I was in shock. Even if you don't want to go to court, you could have the guy arrested and he could be in jail for at least 24 hours."
Nothing like that happened.
Nell Parker, spokeswoman for Home Depot, says the stolen batteries were only worth about $10; that made the company decide not to prosecute.
"The store manager made the call that it was not worth monopolizing the time of the police or jeopardizing the safety of our employees," Parker says. "We let our store managers have a lot of discretion. She made the call to take the merchandise back, to tell [the shoplifter] to leave the premises and that he'd be arrested for trespassing if he ever comes back."
So what's the message here?
A muddled one, at best. But to public-spirited guys like Jeff Zablocki and anyone else thinking of getting involved, the message is quite clear: Next time, pal, just drink your coffee.
Some mean mussels
Our official food taster, Joey Amalfitano, reports from Southeast Baltimore:
"The other night, Maxine had a hankering for some mussels. The way she described how we could enjoy those tasty delights, bathed in garlic butter, made me point my Thunderbird toward the twin spires of St. Caz's.
"We went to Canton and pulled up a couple of chairs at Looney's, which caught my eye on O'Donnell Street. It opened a couple of years ago. I had a Wisconsin cheese soup, and Maxine got the hot crab dip with veggies. Now, to the mussels. For $4.25 we got 31 of those sweet babies, French bread and a small tub of melted butter and garlic. A supreme count, one so bountiful I swear I heard my arteries yelping for help."
A reader's theory
TJI reader Wayne Harrison of White Hall, in northern Baltimore County, disagrees with my theory that the governor's $73 million in proposed welfare for Jack Kent Cooke is what pushed public (( opinion against both football stadium projects. Harrison thinks the state's deal with Art Modell is no less stinko; people are generally opposed to this kind of government subsidy for millionaires.
Harrison makes a couple of other trenchant points:
"The comparison [of the football stadium] to the Orioles stadium project doesn't quite match up. The Orioles bring around 3 million people downtown during 81 generally pleasant weather days per year. And, if they win the league title, they bring a World Series. Modell will bring a maximum of 700,000 people into town [for 10 games] per year, with the later days being in the cold late fall. If his team should win the conference championship, some Sun Belt city benefits from Super Bowl crowds.
"Once you get beyond the ardent football fans, the sportswriters and broadcasters who need a team to give them something to talk about, and the media guys who will camp out for free in the press box, you will find the six out of 10 people who have figured this whole thing out to be a bad deal."
Corned beef's comin' back
Charles Village lost the once-beloved Homewood Deli a few months ago, but This Just In: Henry (Pertman) and Jeff (Pressman) are taking over, and that means corned beef and knish soon will be returning to the 3100 block of St. Paul.