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Originally published July 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 17, 2009 at 2:42 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Huskies offensive lineman Skyler Fancher bags purse snatcher in U District

Thieves beware: Don't rob someone in front of Huskies football player Skyler Fancher. He will run you down, even with a broken leg.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Thieves beware: Don't rob someone in front of Huskies football player Skyler Fancher. He will run you down, even with a broken leg.

Once he fully heals, it won't even be a fair chase.

File this one under "Insanely Valiant Displays of Athletic Heroism." Fancher, a sophomore offensive lineman on the Washington football team, helped catch a purse snatcher Tuesday night, defying his injury all the while.

He was eating dinner with a friend at Chipotle Mexican Grill in the University District when the chaos began. A young woman and her friend screamed and started the chase, the teenage thief ran away from them, and Fancher decided to sprint after him — in his flip-flops.

The chase lasted about 10 minutes, according to Fancher. It included two other men, one of whom suffered knee and nose injuries while trying to catch the purse snatcher. During the pursuit, Fancher, who has had two surgeries on his right leg since he injured it during spring practice, also climbed a wall.

"After coming off surgery, I'm not in top shape, so I was pretty tired," Fancher said Thursday afternoon. "It took us at least 10 minutes to catch him, but it seemed like forever."

Fancher remembers the action vividly. When he saw the thief running, he jumped from his seat at Chipotle and joined the chase down University Way. It continued onto 42nd Street and then to Brooklyn Avenue before the kid hurried into an alley between University Way and Brooklyn.

The men thought they had the thief cornered. But the kid got out of their grasp because his tank top ripped, which caused one of the men with Fancher to "slip and smash into a parked vehicle and hit the ground," according to a University of Washington police report. The fall injured the man's knee and nose.

From there, Fancher chased the kid onto campus — calling the campus police and jumping a wall on the way — and found him hiding in a tree. Soon after, the thief came down from the tree and tried to continue his getaway, but the police had joined the hunt, and he was apprehended as everyone converged on him.

The UW Police made the arrest. The 14-year-old boy has since been charged with first-degree theft.

But don't look for Fancher to accept credit for what he did. The 6-foot-6, 289-pound young man considers himself just one of many people trying to help a woman get her purse back.

"I would just say I'm a normal citizen," said Fancher, who did not reinjure his leg during the chase. "We're all just trying to look out for each other, right?"

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Sure, but not too many normal citizens would hunt down a criminal with an athletic career at stake. Doctors haven't cleared Fancher to run like he did Tuesday. His injury required a plate and eight screws to help it mend.

Then the plate became infected, and Fancher needed another surgery. He's just starting to run on his right leg now, but he's supposed to be taking it easy and preparing gradually for fall camp next month.

He had felt the impact of crime recently, however. Someone stole the stereo system from his Nissan Titan truck a few months ago. He had the stereo replaced last month, and on the day he got his truck back, someone stole it and stripped it bare — tires, stereo, everything.

"I had just had enough, so I was running off pure adrenaline," said Fancher, who is from Costa Mesa, Calif. "I was afraid I was going to get in trouble, so that's probably why I didn't tell anybody about it right away."

The few Huskies who know about it have responded with a "You did WHAT?!?!" followed by an appreciation of his bravery. Most of his coaches are on vacation this week. Coach Steve Sarkisian should respond with a lecture and a big, congratulatory hug.

Fancher already had a desire to fight crime. He says he wants to be like former Huskies All-American linebacker Dave Hoffman, who is a Secret Service agent. Hoffman spoke to the team before their spring game in April, and Fancher came away even more inspired.

"I'm honored that he even mentioned that I had an effect on him, and I'm very humbled by it," Hoffman said in a phone interview. "Guys like that, I look forward to helping in any way I can to get going in law enforcement. It's obvious he already had this in him. Some people stand by and say, 'Oh, that's too bad.' Some people get their hands in there and try to make a difference.

"With guys like Skyler on your football team, you can't go wrong. That's the kind of guy you want to go to battle with."

No doubt. Fancher doesn't want to be called a hero, but perhaps he'll settle for a nickname.

Crime Dawg is kind of catchy.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

Staff reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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