By Bob Jackson and JOHN GOODWIN
For Angelo T. Pappalardo, chasing down a would-be thief who stole a jug of money containing $531 intended for needy veterans was no big deal.
Never mind that he’s nearly 80 years old — he wasn’t about to let that money be swiped.
“I did the best I could,” the humble Austintown man said. “I was just determined to get that money back because I know how badly the veterans need the help.”
Pappalardo, 78, is an Army veteran and for the past four years has collected donations for Veterans Outreach, a charitable organization that provides money to veterans for things like clothing, food, and eyeglasses. Over the years, he says he has collected some $100,000 for the cause.
On Saturday, he was collecting outside Walmart SuperCenter on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown, one of his regular sites, when a woman walked past his table around noon, put her hand on the collection jug and wiggled it. When Pappalardo asked her to stop, she smiled and walked away.
About two hours later, the same woman came back. This time, she did more than wiggle the jug.
“She just ripped it right off the table and ran like a rabbit,” he said. “It happened so fast, I just never expected it.”
But even though Pappalardo was caught off guard, he didn’t hesitate to act. He got up from his seat and gave chase, yelling all the while for help and for someone to call the authorities. The woman who took the jug, ran into a nearby woods and was soon caught by township police, while a passer-by who’d heard Pappalardo’s cries for help caught another woman who appeared to be an accomplice.
Pappalardo said the jug was bolted to the table, but that the table top was very thin, so the robber was able to simply rip it away.
“She just ripped it right out of there like [the table] was made of paper. We’re going to have to make those things more secure, I guess,” he said, laughing.
Sgt. Mark Skowron, Austintown police, said the women — Ayasha Cummings, 25, and Jasmine Jenkins — tried to run to a nearby car and escape with the money jar, but shoppers intervened blocking the escape.
“A citizen came out of nowhere and blocked them with his vehicle. She rammed him three times and still tried to escape,” said Skowron.
Skowron said Jenkins got out of the car and ran, but was apprehended by police a short distance away behind a grocery store. Cummings was held by residents until police arrived.
“The citizen driving the car put himself in harm’s way, but he did a wonderful job. It was great citizen’s participation,” he said.
Witnesses told police Cummings threw a wallet into a nearby trash bin. Police found the wallet, which contained credit cars, a debit card and license belonging to another woman, inside the Dumpster.
Cummings has been charged with aggravated robbery and Jenkins has been charged with complicity to aggravated robbery.
Pappalardo said nothing like this has happened to him before, and it won’t dissuade him from going back out to collect again. He gets paid minimum wage for the hours he collects, which is usually about two days a week in the Austintown area.
“They weren’t really robbing me,” he said. “They were robbing the veterans and all the people who’d given money.”
He said police recovered all the money from the jug: $531.28.
Pappalardo said he served with the Army’s 37th Engineer Batallion in Germany from 1954 to 1956.