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Pair charged in string of pocketbook thefts at Suffolk supermarkets, Suffolk police say

Suffolk police arrested a pair of alleged pocketbook thieves Wednesday and charged them in eight separate incidents — but not before police said the two fled an attempted traffic stop, crashing their getaway car into a tree on Route 112 in Medford.

Police said Tariasha Smith, 25, of West Babylon, and Robert Hengeveld, 50, who is homeless, stole the handbags at a range of Suffolk supermarkets this week, beginning with a theft in Bohemia on Sunday and culminating with two thefts Wednesday — one in Oakdale, the second in Patchogue — before a Fifth Precinct patrol officer attempted a traffic stop on their 2015 Volkswagen Jetta on northbound Route 112 just after 10:40 a.m.

The two fled the attempted stop, at which time police said Patrol Officer Vincent Maxwell decided not to initiate a pursuit but elected to follow the getaway car at a distance. However, police said, Smith, driving "at a high rate of speed," lost control of the car as she attempted to turn onto Peconic Avenue, crashing into a tree around 10:50 a.m. The two then fled the crash scene on foot, before being caught and arrested by Maxwell and Officer Dennis Stewart, police said.

Police said that in the hour before their arrests Smith and Hengeveld snatched an unattended pocketbook from a shopping cart in the Lidl Food Market parking lot on Sunrise Highway in Oakdale as the owner was placing groceries in her car. Then about 20 minutes later, at 10:35 a.m., police said they "committed a similar larceny" at the ShopRite on Sunrise Highway in Patchogue.

A description of the Volkswagen was then broadcast to patrol officers, police said, leading to the attempted stop and the arrests.

Police said an investigation by Fifth Squad and Sixth Squad detectives determined the pair were responsible for the following additional pocketbook thefts:

  • Sunday at Giunta's Meat Farms, 4585 Sunrise Highway in Bohemia, at 2:20 p.m.;
  • Monday at ShopRite, 601 Portion Rd. in Lake Ronkonkoma, at 11 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 5:35 p.m.;
  • Tuesday at ALDI supermarket, 367 Sunrise Highway in Patchogue, at 5:55 p.m., and the Stop & Shop, 5701 Sunrise Highway in Holbrook, at 6 p.m.

Police did not detail the value of the items stolen.

Smith and Hengeveld were each charged with eight counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, three counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, and third-degree unlawful fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle.

The two face arraignment at a later date, police said.

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