BLOOMINGTON - Police arrested one person and are looking for another in two purse snatchings Monday night in Bloomington-Normal.
Bloomington officers pulled over Kelly Clary, 46, of the 300 block of Riley Drive, Bloomington, shortly after police say she and another woman tried to steal a woman's purse about 7:50 p.m. at a Normal shopping center parking lot and stole another woman's purse about 8:20 p.m. at a Bloomington shopping center parking lot.
The other woman is wanted on a warrant.
Clary was charged with driving while under the influence of a controlled substance, and the state's attorney's office will determine what formal charges she could face, said Bloomington police spokesman Dave White.
The two incidents spawned widely circulated e-mail rumors about groups of people from Chicago waiting in parking lots to rob store patrons. But police said there have only been the two incidents, and those involved are local residents.
Clary told officers she and a second woman had been using crack cocaine Monday night, and the second woman told Clary to drive her around, White said.
The pair went to a grocery store in Normal, but did not commit any crimes before arriving at the site of the first crime at the Shoppes at College Hills in Normal.
The second woman tried to grab another woman's purse while in that parking lot, and the two wrestled over the purse before it fell, the contents spilled and Clary and the robber fled, White said.
The victim described the car and attempted robber to police, and an officer went to an address in the 300 block of Riley Drive in case the women returned the address where the car was registered, he said.
A man told police he watched as a woman grabbed a purse from a shopping cart in a parking lot in the 1600 block of East Empire Street, got into the car with Clary and the pair drove away at high speed, White said. The man followed the car and pulled up beside it near the intersection of Riley and Bradley drives, where he flashed his headlights at the officer, who was driving the opposite way, he said.
"When they took off from Kmart, they tried to come home," White said. "And they didn't realize that someone was following them, so they have a real good eyewitness."
The man told the officer about what he saw at the Empire Street lot, White said, and the officer recognized the car was the same one from the incident in Normal. The passenger in the car jumped out of the car and ran away with the purse taken from the shopping cart, he said.
Officers were unable to track the woman with a police dog, White said. The car was impounded because it was used in committing a crime, he said.
White said the Internet rumors had spread like wildfire, despite the fact that the case is "basically over."
Normal Police Lt. Mark Kotte agreed, saying the public is not at risk from groups attacking shoppers on a large scale. He said signs in some area grocery stores are addressing thieves who earlier this year distracted elderly patrons to steal their wallets, and they are not connected with the incidents Monday.
"These are isolated incidents," Kotte said. "These are not common things to occur."
But Kotte recommended people take safety precautions, such as keeping their purses close and using purses that fasten closed, when shopping.