‘People should help people’: Stranger steps in to stop attempted robbery in Greensboro

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Bobby Whiteman drives to downtown Greensboro every day to work his construction job. But Tuesday, he saw his job as more than just construction.

Whiteman said he left his job site on East Lewis Street around 3:30 p.m. to grab a tool from his car in the parking lot.

"I heard some guys yelling," he said. "I turned around, and a guy was pulling at her purse. And then he punched her."

Whiteman said he saw a group of about five girls, screaming and crying, as a man tried to steal one of their purses. Police have not named the victim but said she is 19 years old.

When Whiteman realized what was happening, he said he ran over to help.

"I ran out to him and choked him until he passed out," he said.

Greensboro police Sgt. Kory Flowers said while he does not recommend everyone do what Whiteman did, it worked in this instance.

"As a general rule, it's not the best plan to intervene in those kind of violent, volatile situations," Sgt. Flowers said.

Whiteman said the suspect, who police later identified as Steven Ray Laughlin, 41, of Greensboro, got away because a parking attendant drove up and told Whiteman to let him go.

"That was really frustrating," Whiteman said. "He didn't know what was going on."

Police said they then used K-9s to track Laughlin's scent and found him hiding under the back deck of a home on Vance Street.

One of the girls in the group had pepper spray, Sgt. Flowers said. She was able to spray the suspect with it, but she also pepper-sprayed a friend.

"And honestly, that's very easy to do," Sgt. Flowers said. "Law enforcement trains with pepper spray regularly. In the midst of chaos, it's very easy to spray everybody in close proximity."

Whiteman, a father of a 9-year-old girl, said he'd jump in to help the group of women all over again.

"I don't think you should hit a female," he said. "And people should help people. I would want somebody to help if that was my kid."

Laughlin is charged with attempted robbery, assault on a female and resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer.

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