Saturday, October 18, 2003

Theft suspect dies in struggle with van owner

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AVONDALE - Sammie Harris died doing what he wasn't very good at.

The Avondale man, 43, had been arrested repeatedly for breaking into vehicles - most recently in June after a woman in Corryville said he was trying to get into her van. On Friday morning the same thing landed Harris in the morgue, police say.

It was 6:30 a.m. when a man at Alaska Terrace Apartments called 911 to say someone in gray jogging pants was breaking into a van in the parking lot. The caller said the van's owner was holding the suspect down, waiting for police. The suspect was still being held down five minutes later, according to dispatch logs.

By 6:49 a.m., Harris was in cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at University Hospital.

Investigators weren't sure Friday exactly what happened. They didn't give the name of the van's owner because he hadn't been charged with anything, and might not be charged. Neighbors in the complex describe the van owner as a friendly guy just trying to protect his property.

Harris was jailed two weeks ago after police said they found him with a pipe used to smoke crack cocaine.

Thefts from vehicles are among the most often reported crimes in Cincinnati. More than 6,000 times last year, people reported losing things like cell phones, laptops and leather jackets.

Harris' list of prior offenses shows he took many things - a book bag, a $125 calculator, a $100 speaker. He went to jail for such thefts at least three times in the past three years.

He dropped a piece of a spark plug during a 2000 arrest. Spark plugs are commonly used to shatter vehicle windows, officers said.


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