Talk about doing a good turn.
A would-be wallet and iPhone thief trying to make a quick getaway on the streets of Old Town was stymied Sunday when a gang of bicycling Boy Scouts chased down and corralled the suspected culprit before police arrived.
"People don't ever want to help -- everyone just stands there and rubbernecks -- but we teach the guys to step up," said Troop 850 Scoutmaster Barry Wiegmann. "They take an oath to help others at all times. When the suspect pushed a woman and this family into the street as he's running away, the guys just took off after him."
The Boy Scouts, visiting from Montgomery Township, N.J., were bicycling past Caroline's Cafe on Duval Street -- they were biking up the street after lunch at Margaritaville -- when a man reportedly made a mad dash out of Caroline's. He was followed by another man pleading for help.
"The second guy was yelling, 'He just stole my wallet, help! Help!'" Wiegmann said Tuesday from their campground at Sigsbee Park, where the Scouts were fishing for snapper in the mangroves.
The race was on as the bicycling Scouts -- 11 Scouts ages 14 to 17 and six adult leaders -- gave chase as the suspected thief made his way to Whitehead Street. The man threw the wallet in some bushes near the Banyan Resort where a passerby picked it up and handed it back to him, according to a Key West police incident report.
"He stops and yells, 'Why are you guys chasing me?'" Wiegmann said. "'You're trying to assault me,' this guy says. I said, 'Just give up the wallet and phone and wait for the police to get here.'"
With the Scouts closing in, the suspect turned eastbound on Eaton Street and hid in a yard, where the Scouts circled him and called 911, Wiegmann said.
But the suspect took off again and the Scouts again gave chase. The man, apparently tired of trying to outrun the bicycling crew, stopped near Fleming and Simonton streets, where the Scouts again circled him, called 911 again and waited for police. They gave him a wide birth.
"I was yelling for the guys to stay back and just keep their eyes on him and don't try to restrain him," Wiegmann said. "Obviously, we don't know this guy or what his mental state is. I'm proud of the guys. They followed their oath. They stood up and helped someone who needed help."
The Scout Oath is: "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
Arriving police handcuffed the suspect, identified as 38-year-old Jason Norwood, arresting him on a grand theft charge. He remained in Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island Wednesday in lieu of $15,000 bail.
Scout leader Tim Spring captured the chase on video with his iPhone, which the Scouts showed police. When the stolen wallet and iPhone were not immediately recovered, the Scouts fanned out and searched the area. Within minutes, a Scout found the missing iPhone in nearby bushes. Another passerby found the wallet. Police gave the Scouts a quick, on-the-street lesson in fingerprinting and evidence gathering.
"The guy was denying it and saying he didn't steal anything and the cop says, 'Well, I've got 17 Boy Scouts here who are willing to swear an oath and tell a judge they saw you. Who do you think the judge will believe?'" Wiegmann said.
The alleged victim, a visiting pilot from Brazil named Adriano Furlan, was grateful, Wiegmann said.
"He and his girlfriend looked petrified," Wiegmann said. "He got the wallet back and for a minute there I think he thought his iPhone was gone forever, but we got it for him. He was profusely thankful."
On Tuesday, the Scouts were huddled in the mangroves chumming the waters to lure in dinner, as bad weather and milky seas had ruined their planned fishing trip on Sugarloaf Key earlier in the day. The group consisted largely of older Scouts who are nearer in their climb to achieving scouting's highest rank, Eagle Scout, Wiegmann said.
The younger boys in the troop were back home in New Jersey at summer camp, but the older Scouts wanted to do something different that involved the ocean, so they elected for a high adventure trip to the Southernmost City.
The troop's adult leaders asked that the Scouts' last names not be published due to their age and lack of parental consent.
Senior Patrol Leader, 14-year-old Rohan, was among those recounting their Old Town chase.
"It was confusing at first," Rohan said. "We really didn't know what was going on, but we knew this guy was asking for help."
Kyle, 14, thought he heard someone shout "Charge!" at the onset of the chase, which drew laughter from his fellow fishermen, but no clear agreement. The conversation shifted for a moment when a nurse shark made a brief appearance in the fishing hole.
Moments later more laughter emerged when it was agreed that the highlight of the trip thus far wasn't the chase, but a volleyball match on Smathers Beach with some girls from Houston.
"All I know is, I'm coming back," said 15-year-old Kyle. "The music is really cool here and you can walk or ride your bike everywhere. Plus, you can swim out and find a reef practically anywhere. You can't do that in New Jersey."