A frightening attack on a woman in a wheelchair on the light rail in Phoenix was thwarted last month by light rail riders.
Phoenix police released light-rail surveillance video on Saturday morning of the incident in hopes of finding the vicious and cowardly criminal.
It was Friday, November 29, at 3:40 p.m., at the 12th Street and Jefferson platform, according to Sergeant James Rothschild of the Phoenix Police Department, who sent a news release to the media with the video and screenshots.
As the first segment of the video shows, a man in a red hoodie and blue jeans is seen sitting in a chair across from the woman in the wheelchair, apparently contemplating what he was about to do. He gets up as the train stops on a platform and unhooks the surprised woman from her seat belt. He then begins maneuvering her out of position and toward the door as she resists.
The next part is tough to watch: The vulnerable woman seems rightfully terrified, grabbing onto a pole to stop herself from being wheeled out against her will. She tries in desperation to stop herself several times as he pushes her and callously rips her hands off the train's stability poles. His intentions are completely unclear as he's doing this: Does he want to kidnap her? Or just rob her?
Everything happens in a few short seconds. She resists mightily, and the coward apparently decides he can't control her, so he tips the chair and pushes her out, causing her to fall to the floor. There's no sound in the video, but Rothschild said the victim screamed, causing other passengers to come to her aid. The man pushes the now-vacant wheelchair out the door. While he does this, stunned light rail riders follow him out. The man who would become hero of the day can be seen exiting a back door with determination.
In the next scene, a long-range surveillance shot filmed from the platform, the hero emerges from the light rail as the robber tries to flee with the wheelchair. He appears to punch-shove the robber, causing him to drop the wheelchair. The robber begins to run and the hero starts to chase him, then wisely stops as the robber runs down the platform to escape.
As he runs, the video camera gets some nice, clear images of him.
"I'm truly hoping for an arrest especially with such good video," Rothschild told Phoenix New Times.
The attacker was further described by police as a white man, 22-28 years old, 200-215 lbs., with dirty-blond hair and a goatee. He was also wearing "reindeer slippers."
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Rothschild said he's unsure if the 28-year-old woman in the wheelchair needed any medical attention.
"I’ve been communicating with her and it sounds like she was slightly sore and bruised," he said. "Although I’m sure she was quite shaken up, it sounds like injuries were definitely very minor."
Police would like you to call Silent Witness if you know the criminal. Use 480-WITNESS, 480-TESTIGO (Spanish speaking), or call Rothschild at (602) 885-9901.
(UPDATE: On the evening of December 7, police located and arrested the suspect, Austin Brett Shurbutt , who’s 26, for two outstanding warrants. Police booked him into county jail and are seeking charges in the light rail attack including robbery, attempt to kidnap, assault, and a vulnerable adult abuse charge.)