Resident chases down theft suspect

Apparently saying that someone needed money wasn't a good enough excuse for one Newport Beach man who chased down a burglary suspect he found allegedly rummaging through his friend's car early Wednesday.

Police hope the arrest of Robert Schweickert, 20, of Newport Beach, can close a few theft cases for detectives after he was arrested in his neighborhood for allegedly searching cars in the middle of the night.

He was caught by Ben Swift, 20, and his friend Charlie. The two happened upon Schweickert in the middle of the night as they came home from a friend's house. They had seen fliers from police about a number of local burglaries.

"We saw my friend's car parked in the driveway and the dome light on," Swift recalled. "I jogged up to say 'hi' or scare him or whatever and then saw the head disappear and run off."

Swift and his buddy gave chase, catching Schweickert a few houses down after he tripped and fell on a neighbor's lawn. Charlie called police while Swift demanded Schweickert hand over whatever he took.

"He was playing some sob story about needing money," Swift said.

He said Schweickert handed over some loose change from his friend's car along with his garage door opener.

"We called the cops on the other line and just kind of let him walk away," he said.

Schweickert didn't get far. Police were soon on the scene and stopped Schweickert's girlfriend, who, police said, was acting as a look-out in a nearby car. She told police where Schweickert lived (not far from Swift's friend's house, in the 1700 block of Skylark Lane). Police arrested Schweickert at his home, said Newport Beach Sgt. Steve Burdette.

"It sounds like they were taking anything that wasn't tied down," Burdette said.

Many times when police catch a thief who looks for unlocked cars in the middle of the night, they can connect the thief to a string of similar thefts in the city, Burdette said.

Schweickert's girlfriend has not been charged. Schweickert pleaded not guilty Thursday to misdemeanor theft with a prior conviction, two counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen property. He's due back in court Aug. 26 for a pre-trial hearing.

As for Swift, police said he helped them make the arrest. But for safety reasons, police urged that people should let them deal with suspects.

"It's a tough call," Burdette said. "Put yourself in their position and you'd want to do the same. But we as police are geared for this type of activity. We have the armor, the weapons. Typically, in cases like this we'd prefer them to call us immediately and keep an eye on them from a distance."

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