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Running club chases down theft suspect in University City

“If this running club had been put on this earth for anything, it was that particular moment right there.”

Mario Giorno (middle) and other members of the Annenberg (Lunchtime) Running Club meet three times a week at the plaza at 36th Street and Locust Walk in University City.
Mario Giorno (middle) and other members of the Annenberg (Lunchtime) Running Club meet three times a week at the plaza at 36th Street and Locust Walk in University City.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

A theft suspect who made a run for it after allegedly swiping a laptop computer and cell phone from a University of Pennsylvania building last month ran straight into a running club during his getaway and was promptly chased down by the fleet-footed group.

“If this running club had been put on this Earth for anything, it was that particular moment right there,” said Kyle Cassidy, a founding member of the Annenberg (Lunchtime) Running Group. “Running is typically a useless sport where you turn fat cells into heat, but occasionally it can be useful, and here was one of those opportunities.”

The running group began three years ago and is open to anyone who lives or works in West Philadelphia.

The group meets at noon three days a week and, among other activities, hosts a “running lecture series” where one speaker will deliver a four-minute lecture — while running — followed by a 15-minute Q&A. Past topics include such hits as “blockchain and bitcoin as it relates to the extraction of the rare earth minerals necessary to produce the electricity to mine bitcoin,” Cassidy said.

On Jan. 9, Cassidy and three other members of the group were gathered shortly before noon at the plaza at 36th Street and Locust Walk, waiting for any stragglers to arrive, when somebody sprinted through them.

“We were all impressed with his speed,” said Cassidy, 52, of West Philly. “One of the runners said, ‘We should invite him to run with us. He’s very fast.'”

Seconds later, Cassidy said, a second man came running up the street waving his arms and shouting for help, saying the first man had stolen his things.

Philadelphia police identified the suspect as Talib Adams, 26. Police said Adams stole a laptop and cell phone from a 28-year-old man at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall at Penn’s Wharton School.

Once the running club realized what was happening, the members sprinted off after the suspect. It only took them about 30 seconds to catch up, Cassidy said. The chase took them through an active construction site at 37th and Chestnut Streets.

“A construction worker — appearing exactly as a construction worker in a movie would — said, ‘Hey! You can’t go in there. That’s an active construction site,’” Cassidy recalled. “He paid them no mind, and I ran up to the worker and asked him to dial 911.”

Then they lost sight of the suspect, and two Penn police officers arrived, Cassidy said.

Two of the runners, Samantha Oliver and Natalie Herbert, surmised that if they were being chased they’d hide the stolen goods in the backyard of a nearby home. The runners knocked on the door of that home and when the owner answered, the suspect allegedly sprinted from a bush in the backyard right into the two officers, according to Cassidy and police.

Over the next 15 minutes, more officers showed up, Cassidy said.

“When they found out we were a running club out on an afternoon run, they were very amused," he said.

Adams, of the 300 block of Fountain Street, was taken into custody and charged with burglary, criminal trespass, theft, and receiving stolen property, police said. The laptop and cellphone were recovered in the backyard.

Adams’ attorney did not immediately return a request for comment. Court records indicate Adams posted bail in this case but is incarcerated in the Delaware County prison on unknown charges.

Cassidy tore a leg muscle during the chase and, after providing a statement at Penn’s police headquarters, was taken to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

“Every police officer at Presbyterian — and there seemed to be 500 — shook my hand while I was on the stretcher waiting to be seen,” he said.

Looking back on the ordeal, Cassidy said the person he’s most worried about is the suspect.

“I’m concerned we live in a society where people feel the need to steal laptops," he said. “I don’t think we’re taking good care of those people.”