Sean Kirst: During robbery, 2 witnesses take on role of good Samaritans - The Buffalo News

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Sean Kirst: During robbery, 2 witnesses take on role of good Samaritans

In Thanksgiving season, Emily Nagy-Rizzuto contemplates a reason to be grateful whenever she reaches for her wallet. She was robbed and roughed up a few months ago on a busy Buffalo street, and a lot of motorists looked straight at her, then drove past.

Except for two people who didn't.

Nagy-Rizzuto can laugh now when she thinks about it: Her rescuers only happened to be there at the right moment because they couldn't find the cream of tartar.

All of it came together, said Deputy Police Commissioner Kimberly Beaty, as proof that "being a city of Good Neighbors is not a cliché."

It's the only route, she said, toward a truly safe community.

The tale goes like this: On a quiet August afternoon, Dana Segal of Buffalo decided she wanted to make macaroons. She enlisted an old friend, Kyron Rose, to join her on a ride to Wegmans on Amherst Street to pick up the ingredients. The cream of tartar wasn't where they thought it ought to be, and it took them a few minutes of wandering to find it.

"Things happen for a reason," Rose said.

Those few minutes explain why they were driving at about 6:10 p.m. toward the crossroads of Amherst Street and Elmwood Avenue. That's where they noticed two teenagers running along Amherst, one of them clutching a large cloth bag, while an upset woman ran after them.

They watched as one of the teens turned upon their pursuer. The teen grabbed her and slammed her into a wall.

For an instant, just an instant, Segal and Rose wondered if it could possibly be a youthful disagreement, or even goofing around among some friends.

But the two teens again fled. The woman who'd been assaulted stopped, began weeping, then returned to the pursuit.

No one pulled over to help. A couple of cars slowed down, said Rose, 41, who works as a logistics specialist. He saw passengers, who did nothing to assist, choosing instead to record the encounter on their phones.

That erased any question about what was happening.

"They attacked her," Segal said to Rose. "We've got to stop."

She found a place to turn around. They caught up to Nagy-Rizzuto, 21, a student at SUNY Buffalo State majoring in fashion and textile design. At night, she tends bar to pay the bills. She was on her way to work, she said later, when the teens began following her.

When she reached the bus stop and sat down, one sat on the bench next to her. The other stood, she said, in a way that boxed her in.

"I like your bag," one teen said. She asked Nagy-Rizzuto where she bought it, and if she could see it. Nagy-Rizzuto, sensing trouble, tried to position the bag safely in her lap.

As she did, the teen grabbed the bag, tossed it to her friend and said:

"It's hers now."

They hurried away, throwing the bag back and forth.

"My life was in that bag," Nagy-Rizzuto said. It held her wallet, her keys, her various forms of identification, her bank card and $13 in singles she'd saved for bus money for the week.

She called out to the teens to give back the bag. They ignored her. She followed them down Amherst Street until they turned on Elmwood. Nagy-Rizzuto is of slight build. One of the teens, she said, was physically larger than she was.

They cursed at Nagy-Rizzuto. She said they were furious. A teen whirled and said they were going to "break" her.

That's when one of the young women shoved Nagy-Rizzuto against a storefront wall. Nagy-Rizzuto bounced off and kept following them, calling for her bag. The larger teen again turned and ran toward her, this time shoving her toward traffic.

Cars drove past. Nagy-Rizzuto still had her phone. Crying in frustration, she punched in the numbers and called 911. As she stood there, telling a dispatcher the story, a car pulled up.

It was Segal and Rose.

"Did those girls take your bag?" Segal asked.

Rose opened the door. Nagy-Rizzuto jumped in, still talking to the police. They pursued the teens, who ran down Bridgeman Street, they said, and disappeared behind a house.

No one could be sure that the teens weren't carrying weapons, Rose said. Segal pulled over to wait for officers. One of the young women emerged from behind the house, carrying the unzipped bag. Rose and Segal called to her, telling her to return it. She ran over and hurled the bag toward the car window.

Nagy-Rizzuto looked inside. Her pink wallet was missing. She saw it protruding from the teen's pocket.

"Just give us the wallet," Rose called to the teen.

"I don't have … " the teen said, cursing, and again began to run.

Within moments, the first police car pulled up.

The officers didn't need much time to apprehend both of the teens, one of whom had managed to change her shirt in an attempt to avoid being caught. Police charged the two teenagers, who could receive youthful offender status, with second-degree robbery.

Investigators were able to make the arrests for one simple reason, according to Beaty, the deputy commissioner: Segal and Rose made the decision to turn around. In September, Beaty handled the presentation when they were honored by police with a civilian award of merit. Segal was visiting family in South Korea and couldn't be there for the ceremony.

The intervention triggered a friendship. Rose and Nagy-Rizzuto occasionally send emails or communicate by Facebook, simply to see how everything is going. To Rose, the incident remains a kind of instant reflection on human nature.

"I think we both knew we couldn't sleep that night if we didn't help," he said, speaking for himself and Segal.

Yet he thinks about all the cars that drove past, and he wonders why. Maybe some motorists thought it was a disagreement among friends, and hesitated to step in. Others might have simply been afraid, fearing the teens would attack them, as well.

The most upsetting incidents, Rose said, involved people who slowed down to film the pursuit, as if a robbery in broad daylight was a game.

As for Nagy-Rizzuto, who regained everything except the $13 from her wallet, the lesson becomes clearer with time. In the City of Good Neighbors, she doesn't focus on the motorists who saw her plight, and declined to stop.

She's just thankful that some "really good people" needed extra time to find the cream of tartar.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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