State

Modesto assault, robbery suspect caught

A visually impaired woman had just finished breakfast with her 10-year-old son Tuesday morning at a north Modesto restaurant and was walking him to school when she felt someone tugging at her purse.

She thought it was her son, but it wasn't.

It was a man yanking on her purse, pulling her to the ground and dragging her several feet. The boy tried to fight off his mother's attacker, even kicking him in the shins, but the man got away with the purse.

An alert witness tipped off Modesto police about the attack and helped officers track down the suspect. Police said the man fled to his nearby home and then tried to alter his appearance by changing clothes and shaving.

But the alleged quick change didn't work. Police arrested Arthur Salinas, 21, of Modesto on suspicion of robbery, Sgt. Craig Plante said.

Salinas could face additional charges after the investigation is completed, Plante said. Salinas was being held at the Stanislaus County Jail on Tuesday evening on $100,000 bail.

Plante said the woman who was attacked is legally blind, with only tunnel vision out of one eye. The victim suffered road-burn injuries and was bleeding after the attack. She was examined by paramedics at the scene, Plante said, and later decided to seek treatment at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. Her son was not injured.

The incident began about 8 a.m. as the woman and her son were walking near Woodrow Avenue and Tully Road. Plante said the boy heard footsteps coming from behind them, but he thought it was a jogger who would run past.

But the man who approached from behind yanked on the purse, pulling the woman to the ground and dragging her down the street, Plante said. The boy immediately intervened, kicking the assailant in the shins.

"She's walking her son to school to protect him, and here he is protecting her," Plante said. "When he sees mom being attacked, he jumped right in."

As he was kicking the suspect, the boy noticed his mother's wallet had fallen out of her purse. Plante said the boy grabbed the wallet and the suspect fled with the purse.

Plante said the wallet had valuable items, including money and identification.

Strange behavior

Soon after, Melissa Austin-Lopez of Modesto spotted a man running with a purse as she was driving east in the 800 block of Woodrow, just a few blocks from the robbery, and followed him.

"He caught my eye, because he was running and he kept looking back," said Austin-Lopez. "Then I saw he had a purse, and I realized this guy had just mugged somebody."

She said the man pulled the hood of his sweat shirt over his face. Then he jumped over a backyard fence in the 1000 block of Annapolis Avenue. "He knew I was watching him, so that's what made him paranoid," Austin-Lopez said.

She called police and told officers the man running with a purse had a goatee and was wearing a black hooded sweat shirt and black basketball shorts with a thick gray stripe on each side.

Plante said the man had gone into his neighbor's back yard and then climbed the fence to get to his own house. Once inside, officers said, the suspect put on different clothes and shaved off his goatee.

Officers who responded to the area found Salinas standing in front of his home. He asked what was wrong. Officers, who knew Salinas because he was on probation for robbery, took him into custody for questioning.

Despite his change of appearance, witnesses identified Salinas as the suspect. Plante said officers searched the home, finding the hooded sweat shirt and shorts, as well as evidence he had shaved his facial hair .

The victim's purse was recovered from Salinas' home, Plante said.

After Austin-Lopez learned the robbery victim had been attacked in front of her child, she said she was glad she followed her instincts and helped police.

"Thank God I did this," she said. "Otherwise, he wouldn't have been caught."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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