Mitchel Cabreros took off in a sprint after the thief who had just stolen his mother’s purse at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex and ended up bouncing off the getaway car, which then sped through the parking lot.
If he had been thinking more clearly, Cabreros, a 20-year-old University of Hawaii student, would have focused more on identifying the thief and his two accomplices and getting the license plate of their dark-colored Nissan.
Instead, his Labor Day heroics left Cabreros with a black eye, bruises on his right thigh and a sprained right shoulder from hitting the rear driver’s side door of the speeding Altima, requiring Cabreros to wear a sling to classes at UH.
"All I could think about was getting the guy who stole my mom’s purse," Cabreros said.
It was the second serious incident in a month at the bustling soccer complex, which sees hundreds of children and adults every weekend, said Scott Keopuhiwa, president of the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association.
"He could have been seriously hurt," Keopuhiwa said. "The boldness of these crimes is shocking and surprising. They’ve been getting more serious and have the potential — I don’t want to say for violence, but there have been more confrontations. It is worrisome."
On Aug. 8, an adult coach attending a coaching clinic at the soccer complex’s field No. 5 saw someone breaking into his car parked on the edge of the field, Keopuhiwa said.
"The thief grabbed whatever he could, jumped into a car that was waiting and went speeding through the parking lot," Keopuhiwa said. "While they were fleeing, someone was crossing the road and was barely missed by this car speeding out of the parking lot."
An off-duty Honolulu police detective at the park called patrol officers, who stopped the car, said Honolulu police Maj. Gregory Lefcourt, who commands the Pearl City substation that has jurisdiction over Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park.
The car was driven by a felon who had outstanding warrants for his arrest, Lefcourt said.
Keopuhiwa believes there have been six purse snatchings and car break-ins this year at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park complex, compared to only one or two in previous years.
The crimes include a Memorial Day weekend break-in at the complex’s storage building and the theft of two golf carts, a generator and coolers, soda and water for the concession stands, a haul worth thousands of dollars, Keopuhiwa said.
Lefcourt yesterday did not have an exact tally of crimes at the complex this year, but counted three incidents in the last three months, including the encounters involving Cabreros and the off-duty detective.
"While it seems like there’s a spike in criminal activity, the reality is that when I looked at all the records, there hasn’t been all that much criminal activity going on," said Lefcourt, who used to coach his two daughters at the soccer complex.
However, he will ask patrol officers to increase their presence at the complex and will have HPD community policing teams contact league organizers to provide safety tips.
He urged anyone who witnesses a crime to focus on details, such as a description of the suspects and license plates of their vehicles.
"We never suggest people try to confront a criminal," Lefcourt said. "Putting yourself in harm’s way is never a positive."
There is no regular security presence at the soccer complex. The city’s parks and recreation department personnel includes one full- and one part-time person on the weekends assigned to empty trash and clean bathrooms, Parks Director Les Chang said in an e-mail.
Keopuhiwa knows that police have limited resources to keep watch on the busy complex, which is used by five different soccer groups nearly every weekend.
Informal discussions are under way to possibly organize the soccer groups to hire their own security detail, which could include off-duty police officers.
"It’s definitely an issue that’s of concern to all the user groups," Keopuhiwa said. "With the economic times, it seems people are more desperate and getting bolder and bolder and more brazen about what they’re doing. The crooks realize it’s isolated and there’s lax security. And they realize that maybe the soccer community is a little too trusting and naive — and they’re taking advantage of that."
Cabreros’ mother, Michelle, had just gotten up from watching her daughter, Tiffany, 15, try out for an Olympic development program and asked Mitchel and his girlfriend to watch her purse, which contained her iPhone, wallet, credit cards, checkbook and ID.
"Some guy came up from behind them from the side, snatched my bag and ran off to a car that was waiting for him," Michelle said. "My son chased him down and ran into the car door and flew off the car."
Soccer moms like Lee Miller worry about the consequences of such confrontations.
"We’re just nice, stupid soccer people and they’re finding us to be easy pickings," said Miller, who was at the complex when Cabreros chased the purse thieves. "I’m not so much worried about getting ripped off. I’m worried that someone’s going to get hurt because of these desperate people who are coming in."