- Ada, Oklahoma

September 17, 2012

Citizens corral alleged knife-wielding purse snatcher

Bob Forrest Special Correspondent
The Ada News

Ada — When a group of area residents made a late-night trip to Ada Walmart Friday, they couldn’t have guessed they would all become players in a bizarre drama that began in the store parking lot and spilled out onto Lonnie Abbott Boulevard.

Leta Simmer, a single mom raising three teenagers, had finished her shopping and was returning to her pickup after depositing her shopping cart at one of the cart corrals in the parking lot when a man wearing a gray hoodie approached her at about 10:30 p.m.

“When I walked back to my truck, a guy came up to me and said ‘how ‘bout you give me that purse’,” recalled Simmer, a process coordinator for the Chickasaw Nation’s Division of Commerce. “He was so casual and friendly, I thought he was kidding.  

“Then he took out a knife and said it again,” she said. “I said ‘Hell, no’ and started swinging my purse. I was proud of myself — I got in a couple of really good hits.”

But Simmer’s struggle had just begun.

“He grabbed the purse with his left hand, and he was swinging the knife with his right,” she said. “Finally the purse strap snapped and he took off running.”

Although Simmer’s alleged assailant, Michael Adam Bullard, 30, of Sulphur, had her purse, he also had the kind of company no robber wants.

Simmer’s cries for help attracted fellow shoppers from all over the parking lot and a half-dozen or so formed an impromptu posse that began chasing Bullard west on Lonnie Abbott.

He was cornered near Kim’s Tanning, 1500 N. Hoppe Blvd., and soon afterward Officer Michael Meeks of Ada Police Department arrived on the scene.  When Bullard dropped the knife, he was tackled by two of his pursuers, Victor Arosta and Jason Hubbard of Ada, and arrested.

“Probably six or eight of us chased him,” recalled Jason Odom, a custodian at Valley View Regional Medical Center who, along with his wife, Erin, was at Walmart buying toilet paper and joined in the chase. “It was kind of impulse I guess.  I wasn’t really thinking about it until it was over, but I’d do it again.

“We were following (Bullard) around the parking lot at first,” he said. “He was saying somebody had kidnapped his baby and he had been raped.  He was definitely on something."  

During the pursuit, Erin Odom followed along beside Bullard in her car while on the phone with the 911 operator.  

“We came out of Walmart with Jason carrying a jumbo package of toilet paper, and when we heard (Simmer’s shouts for help) he dropped it and I said ‘go’,” she recalled. “I was trying to be a step ahead, so I got in my car. We all met in the Church’s parking lot.  

“I got in trouble with Jason for being so close to (Bullard) in the car,” she said.  “I was on the phone with 911. (Bullard) was screaming ‘why are they trying to kill me?’  I felt like I was in a movie.”

Simmer said she was impressed with the response of strangers who helped her through her ordeal.

“When (Bullard) started running, some of the best people in the world started chasing him — those guys were great,” she said. “From what I heard, they told him he might as well give up because they weren’t going to. I didn’t realize at first how many people had taken off after him. I was worried because he had a knife, but I wasn’t shocked that those people responded the way they did.

“They recovered my purse and wallet,” Simmer added.  “The only thing I was missing was my cell phone, and some wonderful person turned it in to Walmart and I picked it up the next day.”

Arosta, an active duty serviceman who, according to Erin Odom, was leading the pursuit, said in his statement to Meeks, “As I was walking to my car, I heard a someone’s voice scream and yell for help. As soon as I heard the scream, I started running toward the sound.  I saw a man in a gray hood with his head covered pulling on the woman’s purse.”

Erin Odom said Arosta chased Bullard “through the creek” and into the South Ridge Shopping Center, where Kim’s Tanning is located. Hubbard, she said, arrived soon afterward “on the hood of a car.”

“Once he dropped the knife (a kitchen knife that was recovered by Meeks), we grabbed him and forced him to the ground,” Arosta said. “The man ... kept saying somebody took his baby and that he had been raped and that someone was going to kill him.”

Bullard was booked into Pontotoc County Justice Center Friday night and charged with armed robbery. Judge Steve Kessinger set bond at $100,000 Monday.