I was driving west on R Street in Georgetown with my 18-year-old son when it happened. On the sidewalk next to my car, a tall, thin, young man pushed an elderly lady to the ground, grabbed her purse and ran.

I slammed on the brakes, pushed the gearshift into park, told my son to help the woman and started to chase the mugger across the street, screaming at the top of my lungs: "Help! Call the police! Catch him!"

You should know that I am 5-feet-4, 135 pounds and unathletic, and have never done anything like this before. Two men also started to chase him.

The mugger must have heard and seen us, because he dropped the purse, jumped a low wrought-iron fence and disappeared down 32nd Street with the two men in hot pursuit.

I quickly retrieved the purse. As I crossed R Street again, a man in a tan Mercedes drove by. "What happened?" he asked. As soon as I told him, he too took off after the mugger.

As I returned the purse to the visibly shaken woman, a young woman called out of a second-floor window, "I've called the police. They're on the way." I gave her the A-okay sign, shouted thanks and tried to calm the victim.

Then, to my amazement, the mugger came back around the corner, running west on R Street, still with the two men in pursuit. They turned down 31st Street. I screamed again, hoping to attract attention and more pursuers. He had very long legs and easily outran those chasing him.

I assured the woman that I would stay with her when, all of a sudden, I realized that someone had caught the mugger and turned him over to a young security guard who had quietly appeared from the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks.

Whoever actually caught him disappeared, because the next thing I knew there we were at the corner of 31st and R streets, at the gates of Dumbarton Oaks -- the mugger, the muggee, the security guard and I. Neighbors and passers-by were starting to congregate. The mugger told the security guard to let him go. He said he'd been hit by a car and just wanted to go home.

"You didn't get hit by a car," I said, "and you're not going anywhere." Just then we heard the police sirens, so the guard wasn't tempted to release him.

Two police cars stopped quickly at the gates. I pointed out the mugger, who was telling the police that he didn't do anything wrong and had been hit by a car. They told him to stop talking and to put his hands up against a wall. They searched him and put him in handcuffs.

Just then the man in the Mercedes drove up. "Is everything okay?" I thanked him and assured him that he had been a big help. Then a painter walked up to us and said right to the mugger, "It's a good thing that car got you, 'cause if it hadn't, I would have." It seems a car had hit the mugger as he ran down 32nd Street. The painter had heard me screaming. From atop a ladder at a nearby house he had seen a car run into the mugger. The painter had tried to catch the mugger, too, but was no match for him either.

Then the Neighborhood Watch woman appeared, beaming. "This is the third mugging that's been foiled in our neighborhood," she said proudly.

I gave my account to the police and left as other witnesses were being questioned.

I was so high and so proud. Washington is not New York, I kept saying to myself as I remembered the story of Kitty Genovese and others who had been mugged and/or raped while neighbors and onlookers stared, not lifting a finger or raising a voice to stop the violation. This had been a real team effort -- the two men in pursuit, the woman in the second-floor window, the man in the Mercedes, the mysterious person who finally caught the mugger.

I guess we do care after all. -- Karen Kalish