Metro rider breaks arm chasing iPad thief

The growing popularity of smartphones, tablets and other electronics has led to an overall increase in their theft on Metro’s buses and trains in the past few years, but sometimes the riders strike back.

That’s what Daniel L. Wenger did.

The 50-year-old left his job as a program analyst at the Pentagon about noon Friday and boarded a Blue Line train going toward Franconia. He was heading home and then to his job as an auxiliary police officer in Fairfax County.

Wenger settled into a window seat in the middle of the rail car and placed his iPad on his lap to scan news headlines. That’s when a man reached from behind him and swiped the tablet, he said.

Within seconds, the thief jumped off the train at the Reagan National Airport stop. Just as quickly, the doors closed, leaving Wenger staring at him from inside.

But hold on!

The doors on the rail car reopened for a few seconds, allowing Wenger to race out and chase the man, who was headed to another rail car. Wenger swung his left arm at the suspect, hitting him in the back of his rib cage as he was halfway on the train.

Wenger’s arm also hit the doors just as they shut, causing him to drop to his knees in pain.

“Those doors don’t give up,” Wenger said.

But wait — the doors reopened again!

The thief jumped from the train, and Wenger stuck out a leg to try to trip him, but he didn’t succeed.

The thief ran down the platform and then jumped down and then up onto the opposite platform — crossing the electrified third rail, according to three witnesses’ police statements.

Just before the suspect boarded a Yellow Line train to Fort Totten, another passenger grabbed the iPad, according to Metro Transit Police.

The rider yelled out to Wenger, “What’s on your iPad screen saver?”

When Wenger said it was a photo of his wife and two children, the rider said, “I got it!”

The passenger tossed the iPad across the tracks to another rider, who put it in Wenger’s bag.

Meanwhile, a Metro Transit Police officer who was at National Airport received a detailed description of the suspect from the victim and broadcast it to other officers. Officers at L’Enfant Plaza were starting to look for anyone matching the description when they were approached by an off-duty D.C. police officer who said he had seen an altercation on a train involving a likely suspect, according to Deputy Police Chief Ron Pavlik.

Police arrested Kayvon C. Stoddard, 18, of Landover and charged him with grand larceny. He was also charged as a fugitive because of five open warrants, Metro Transit Police said. Stoddard was later extradited to Arlington County.

Metro Transit Police have said that the thefts of iPhones, iPads and other devices have been on the rise for the past few years, although they are now starting to drop. According to Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, the transit authority has used a PR campaign to encourage passengers to safeguard their items, and police have used better tactics to catch thieves, including using decoys.

Authorities said thieves often try to resell the equipment and obtain people’s personal information, including banking data.

In 2009, Metro Transit Police reported 349 “robbery snatches” of electronic devices, compared with 477 in 2010. And in 2011, 326 thefts were reported — 44 of them resulting from stings conducted by undercover police that led to arrests, according to Metro.

As for Wenger, he had a three-hour operation Wednesday at Fort Belvoir in which plates and screws were inserted in his arm. His wife reported that he was recovering well.

On Tuesday, Wenger complimented Metro Transit Police and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police, who also responded to the incident, saying they “handled the case very professionally.”

Wenger said that while he’s been in the hospital for the past few days, he’s been using his iPad to check Facebook and his e-mail.

“I’m happy they got the guy and I got my iPad,” Wenger said. “I broke my arm, yeah. But it worked out.”

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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