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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

California tourist victimized for third time here

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

With her face and body badly bruised, a 65-year-old California tourist yesterday described her tug-of-war with a Waikiki purse snatcher Sunday night, the third time she has been a victim of crime in Hawai'i.

Sebastiana Podell points to the injuries she received when a man in Waikiki tried unsuccessfully to steal her purse.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sebastiana Podell of Los Altos, Calif., said despite the crimes, she might revisit the Islands some day again, but not right away.

"I suppose I will come back," Podell said. "I may need a little time to get over this."

Podell yesterday talked about her traumatic experience in the hopes that police could nab her assailant before he injures someone again.

Podell said she has been here four or five times. During two trips in the 1990s, she experienced rental car break-ins in Wai'anae and on Maui.

Honolulu Police Detective Letha DeCaires yesterday said it's rare for a tourist to be victimized three times in Hawai'i and hoped that Podell's purse-snatching story would lead to the public's help in catching her assailant.

Police are looking for a man in his 20s, 5 feet 10 inches tall, bald or with short hair, who was wearing a blue overall and no shirt.

The attack in Waikiki left Podell, 5 feet tall and 120 pounds, with a fractured nose and jaw, stitches on her ear, lip and nose and the prospect of plastic surgery.

"I did not expect that the man would be so vicious," said Podell, who was still wearing her damaged glasses from the attack. "I expected he would pull the purse and I would tug, and he would tug ... and he would let it go.

"I am mad," Podell continued. "If I saw him, I don't what I would do to him. I just hope that other people do not get into the same situation."

The attack forced Podell to cut short her trip to Kaua'i and scared her husband and niece into staying indoors, she said. The trip was supposed to be a farewell gift to her niece, who is planning to return to Italy.

But on Sunday, Podell was returning to her Waikiki hotel with her 68-year-old husband, Jack, and her 20-year-old niece when the purse snatcher attacked Podell from behind near the corner of Paoakalani Avenue and Lemon Road at about 11 p.m.

"I felt a tug on my purse," Podell said. "This person tugged and I pulled, and he pulled, and I pulled. I wouldn't let go. All of a sudden, I felt I was being twirled around and pushed against a car or post."

Podell's husband, who suffers from dizziness and fatigue, rushed to her aid, but he was thrown to the ground and kicked in the ribs and head. Podell's niece was thrown into the bushes. Dumped on the ground and still clinging to her purse, Podell said she felt her assailant hitting her face and injuring her.

"I kept feeling pounding on my face," Podell said. "Then I remember lots of blood."

Spooked, the assailant ran away empty handed, but left one of his shoes. Added Podell: "He might have gotten the satisfaction of giving me a punch, but he didn't get anything."

DeCaires praised Podell's "good attitude" and said Podell "kept her wits" during the attack. DeCaires said she hoped people would relinquish their belongings rather than getting hurt, but said Podell just "reacted."

"She wanted to hold onto her purse and she did," DeCaires said. "She has a great zest for life. She went toe-to-toe with this large muscular male and kept her purse. That's how she reacted. Obviously, I wish she hadn't gotten injured. I always wish people would give up their things versus being hurt. But you react, and that's how she chose to react."