Phoenix police make arrest in attempted wheelchair theft

Posted at 7:54 AM, Dec 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-09 11:34:32-05

PHOENIX — Phoenix police say they have captured the man who attempted to steal a wheelchair from a woman while she was riding the light rail late last month.

According to police, 26-year-old Austin Shurbutt grabbed a woman's wheelchair and began to push her out of a light rail car near the 12th Street and Jefferson stop on around 3:40 p.m. on Friday, November 30.

The victim screamed for help, but Shurbutt forcibly grabbed the wheelchair, causing the victim to fall from her chair during the struggle. According to police documents, the victim suffered bruises during the ordeal.

Police say Shurbutt then attempted to steal the wheelchair but was stopped by a group of bystanders who heard the victim screaming. He then fled the light rail platform empty-handed.

The victim said the suspect was staring at her before the incident, but she didn't think anything of it, according to documents. When the suspect attacked her, she told officials she feared for her life and thought the suspect was trying to rob, kidnap or sexually assault her.

Police say anonymous tips from Silent Witness directed police to Shurbutt, who was found and taken into custody near 57th Drive and Happy Valley Road.

"When the community knows that somebody's in need, that something happened to someone, they're wonderful about coming forward giving us that information and that information could be just a little small piece of a very large puzzle but it's the piece that will help investigators crack the puzzle wide open," said Sgt. Jamie Rothschild with Silent Witness.

"Everybody who saw this video pretty much had the same reaction which was, 'I can't believe what I'm seeing and am I really seeing that.'"

After his arrest, police say Shurbutt confirmed he was pictured in surveillance photos before and during the incident, but refused to answer any more questions without a lawyer.

Police say Shurbutt had two outstanding warrants.

He was booked into jail on several charges including robbery, attempt to kidnap, assault, and vulnerable adult abuse.