CRIME Manager chases suspect in theft
Baby formula is a favorite target of thieves, the drugstore manager said.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The manager of Rite Aid on Youngstown-Poland Road wasn't content to just report the shoplifting of eight cans of baby formula.
Gary Markulin followed the getaway car -- through several jurisdictions -- until an arrest was made. He called police this week during the pursuit and advised them he was in a blue Dodge Neon and was following a tan Buick.
"I was just protecting the store's assets," he told The Vindicator. "Similac is a big thing they like to steal. It's an issue with every store. I talked to the manager at Babies "R" Us in Boardman, and they're going to start putting out one can at a time on the shelf."
Markulin said stolen Similac is often sold to private small store owners by drug users who need money. Other times, it's mixed with crack cocaine as a cutting agent.
The formula, which costs roughly $15 can, is also sold by some women on public assistance who trade it for cash, police said.
Markulin's pursuit late Monday afternoon ended at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, near Youngstown State University's police department. Detective Sgt. Ismael Caraballo and Patrolmen Jason Simon and Bill Burton converged on Markulin's Neon and the Buick.
The Buick driver, Eric B. Baun, 28, of Deer Trail, Niles, was charged with receiving stolen property -- eight cans of Similac worth roughly $120. At arraignment Tuesday in municipal court, Baun's bond was set at $1,500. A pretrial hearing is set for Feb. 4.
Markulin told the officers that, while Baun waited in the Rite Aid parking lot, his companion entered the store in a bulky winter coat around 5:10 p.m. Monday. The man didn't buy anything, but when he left one of his coat sleeves was knotted at the cuff.
The manager, suspicious, followed the man out and saw him toss the coat into the back of the Buick. Cans of Similac fell from the coat sleeve and landed on the back seat, police said.
The two men laughed in the Buick at the store manager when he confronted them about the stolen baby formula, according to Markulin, and then drove off.
Markulin followed the car to the CVS Pharmacy on Youngstown-Poland Road and watched as the passenger went into the store and Baun waited in the car. The Rite Aid manager went into CVS and, from a discreet distance, saw the man again put formula in his bulky winter coat, police said.
Markulin warned CVS employees and then went outside to confront Baun, who immediately locked the Buick's doors and threw his jacket over the cans of Similac in the back seat, reports said. Just then, Baun's companion came out of CVS and took off running.
"I want the formula back," Markulin kept saying to Baun. Each time, Baun answered "No."
Baun then drove off, with Markulin again in pursuit.
Around South Avenue and Interstate 680, Markulin called police. The radio dispatcher, who kept Markulin on the line, relayed the direction of travel to Caraballo, Simon and Burton.
When arrested, Baun denied the baby formula cans were stolen and said his companion, known only as "Steve," bought them with a Women, Infants and Children (WIC) card. Police said neither Rite Aid or CVS accept the cards as payment.
Baun also denied that he and his friend were at Rite Aid and said he had no idea why his companion ran from the CVS store.
Markulin said people hear of Similac thefts and think, "Oh, maybe they're stealing it for their baby." That's not the case here, the Rite Aid manager said, because four kinds of the formula were taken, and he believes the man who took them has been in the store before.
Markulin pointed out that help is available from the WIC program for those who need formula for their babies and can't afford it.