The man sat on a bench outside the front door of the Publix in Gulf Gate. His hat was slung low, covering much of his face.
He spotted his victim, an 87-year-old widow, as she tottered toward her car, just two parking spaces away from his bench.
The victim (who wishes to remain anonymous) had her cane in hand while she approached her silver sedan, opened the windows to let the noontime heat escape and placed her purse on the passenger seat.
“I didn’t see him walk up,” said the victim, who speaks with just a whisper of a voice. “All I saw was an arm come through the window and grab my purse.”
The man then ran to his car.
“I yelled, ‘Catch that man! He’s got my purse!’” she said. “I tried to run after him, but I couldn’t.”
Two women heard her, jumped in their car and tried to chase the thief, but he drove across several lanes and lost them.
He then led Sarasota County sheriff’s deputies on a high-speed chase down U.S. 41, all the way to North Port, where he was finally apprehended.
Detectives say that man is Reinaldo Cueto-Alverez, a 47-year-old Cuban immigrant from Port Charlotte.
He was charged with six crimes on July 27: burglary, fleeing a law-enforcement officer, driving with a suspended license, possession of a controlled substance, tampering with evidence and carrying a concealed weapon.
A cane may be needed to keep her steady, her voice may sound frail and she may want to keep her identity hidden to guard against retribution, but the victim is no pushover.
“He picked on me because he knew I couldn’t chase him,” she said. “I want to hit him over the head with my cane.”
Inside her stolen purse was the victim’s most treasured keepsake: a photo of her with her red dachshund, Heidi, posing in front of a Christmas tree.
“Heidi is my very best friend,” said the victim. “She takes good care of me.”
Deputies say during the high-speed chase, Cueto-Alverez tossed several items from the purse out of the car window, among them was that photo of Heidi. The victim is not sure if she’ll ever see it again.
Although she has two sons and four grandchildren, some of whom live in Sarasota — the only one who constantly keeps her company is Heidi.
The victim said she’s never been the victim of a crime before and that this first experience could not have come at a worse time.
“My life is so messed up right now,” she said, referring to a multitude of health problems, such as heart trouble, arthritis, osteoporosis and the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. “And now Heidi is not doing well. I just can’t spare her.”
Asked what sentence she thinks would be appropriate, she says 10 years.
“I want to go to court when he’s there,” said the victim. “I’ll even testify against him. I want to make sure he gets a proper punishment.”
She’ll get her chance to face Cueto-Alverez in court Aug. 26, his scheduled bond hearing.
But she has a warning to anyone looking to victimize her again.
“I keep my cane on the back of my seat now, so if someone tries it again, I can push it in their face,” she says. “I’m too old for that baloney.”
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