On Sunday, June 24, 11 Boy Scouts from Troop No. 850 in Montgomery became local heroes in Key West, Fl., on the streets of Old Town after they successfully corralled a runaway thief before police arrived.
The Scouts were initially in Key West to sail on a high adventure trip, which is planned instead of attending a regular summer camp after the Scouts reach a certain level in Scouting. It took place from June 23 through June 30 with six adult leaders and Scoutmasters. Instead of concentrating on sailing down to Key West, they decided to plan a more personalized trip focusing on oceanic adventures, including snorkeling and swimming, according to one of the Scoutmasters, Barry Weigmann.
“We stayed at the Navel Air Station in Key West, where they train the Navy Seals,” he said. “We stayed on their campground for Scouts.”
Weigmann explained how the focus of their trip essentially placed them at the scene of the crime, and ultimately led them on a multi-block bicycle chase with the suspect.
“We had other activities planned for Sunday,” he said. “We were supposed to go sailing, but the tropical storm Debbie was hanging over Key West for eight days, so the ocean was so rough we couldn’t go. Instead, we decided to rent bikes and head into Key West and were going to tour most Southern Point.”
The Scouts were bicycling down Duval Street – one of the main streets in Key West – after a satisfying lunch at Margaritaville. As they were parked at one of the signal lights, they saw a man suddenly burst through a crowd of people at Caroline’s Café across the street, knocking over a family and followed by a man running after him screaming, “Help! He stole my wallet! Help!”
“The light turned green, and I said, ‘Let’s go boys. Let’s get him,’” Weigmann said. “He was wearing a bathing suit, had his shirt in his hand, and had bare feet with the wallet in one hand and iPhone in the other hand.”
The Scouts, who were ages 14 to 17, took off with the lead of the Scoutmasters to chase the suspected culprit, who was later identified by police as 38-year-old Jason Norwood, while one of the Scout leaders, Tim Spring, caught the whole incident – Norwood with the wallet and iPhone in either hand – on his iPhone simultaneously.
Weigmann explained how he and the Scouts chased Norwood down one of the streets off of Duval Street, Whitehead Street, watching him toss the stolen wallet into the bushes next to a bed and breakfast, the Banyan House, while turning the corner to the next block of his attempted escape route.
After Norwood realized that the Scouts were vigorously chasing him, he hopped the fence into the back yard of the Banyan House to try and regain some energy, according to Weigmann.
“I know he had nothing to do because he was cornered, so we waited it out for about four minutes and he came out with nothing in his hands,” he said. “He started saying, ‘What are you guys doing? Why are you chasing me? You’re trying to assault me.’” And I said, ‘You know damn well why we’re chasing you.’”
After Weigmann exchanged some words with Norwood, the victim – a Brazilian tourist, Adriano Carneiro Furlan, showed up after apparently running after Norwood himself, with his wallet in hand that he received from a bystander who saw Norwood toss his wallet into the bushes on the previous block.
Furlan confronted Norwood in front of the Banyan House, asking where his iPhone was, but Norwood kept denying that he had anything to do with it and said he only had $3 to his name, Weigmann explained.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, when police get here, we’ll figure it out,’” Weigmann said. “And then, he took off running like jackrabbit and took us on another four-block chase.”
Fortunately, Weigmann already had 9-1-1 on the line as he and the Scouts were biking, which allowed him to keep the police informed of their exact locations, which is what allowed police to catch up to the Scouts when they finally stalled Norwood at an intersection four blocks from the Banyan House.
“All of the Scouts were dogging this guy,” Weigmann said. “We got to the corner of two streets, and he [Norwood] ran out of gas, so one of our Scoutmasters, Chris, detained him by keeping him talking and he distracted him until the cops showed up and detained him.”
After Furlan identified Norwood as the thief, the police arrested him, but still didn’t find the iPhone that was missing after Norwood came out from hiding in the back yard of the Banyan House. This is when Weigmann realized that Norwood threw the phone somewhere around there, which is when he sent the Scouts on a search for it.
One of the Scouts found the iPhone in one of the bushes behind the Banyan House, but didn’t touch it so that the police could lift fingerprints from the phone.
“The cops took the prints, and they were positive for Jason Norwood because he was already in the system,” Weigmann said.
Norwood was arrested only three weeks prior to this incident on June 2 for petty theft, however, because the value of Furlan’s items – the money and credit cards in his wallet as well as the iPhone – was greater than $500, Norwood was charged with grand theft, police said.
After Norwood was arrested, Weigmann asked the Key West police to do the fingerprinting at the scene instead of at the police station so that the Scouts could get a lesson on fingerprinting after their successful venture.
Connor, Weigmann’s son and one of the Scouts, thought the fingerprinting part of the whole incident was really informative, and that the overall trip was an experience that will never be forgotten.
“I’ve seen them do it [fingerprinting] in demonstrations, but I’ve never seen it done when something actually happens, so it was pretty cool,” he said. “So far, it was the best. I hope we have more experiences like this in the future.”
Connor also said that he, along with the other Scouts, were confident throughout the entire chase, and not scared or intimidated.
“It felt pretty normal,” he said. “It never really felt like we shouldn’t be doing it. It was kind of a good feeling inside and it just felt good to help someone. This is what we should do as Scouts.”
Furlan, the Brazilian victim, is a commercial pilot who flies to Key West once a month. After everything happened, he sent a personal letter to Boy Scout Troop No. 850 graciously thanking them for all of their help.
“I don’t know how thank those heroes,” Furlan said. “I just know that I learned what it is to meet friendly and honest people while travelling abroad. The parents of those Scouts’ should be very proud! Thank you all so very much! You helped turn what could have been a ‘ruined vacation’ into the opposite – a very positive and inspiring experience.”
Another Scoutmaster who helped lead the chase with Weigmann, Dan Punzik, explained how it’s part of a Scout’s duty to serve and protect, which is why they took off after Norwood.
“Pretty much, you see a situation and instinctively you react and that’s what happened,” he said. “We saw a situation, and we were right there, literally 25 to 30 feet away from it, and because we were so close and because we had so many people with us on bicycles, you kind of instantly assess the situation and knew you could get this guy. So, we took off without even thinking or saying a thing.”
Punzik continued to explain how he assessed the situation, and deemed it to be safe, since it was apparent that Norwood wasn’t carrying any weapons and he was running barefoot while the group of Scouts was riding alongside on bikes.
“At a certain point, you realize he’s not going to outrun you and that he’s going to collapse or something,” Punzik said. “We assessed it initially, and we said we have 17 people and this is the right thing to do. I know I’ve seen situations like that before where nobody has done anything. It was really good that we did it because, if not, no one else there followed the guy or took off or called police. No one took any action except for us, and I’m glad we did because we helped a person out and that’s the important thing.”