..Lorna Hartman..

Do you have enough fingers and toes to count the crimes stories you've heard on the news in the last 24 hours? There are even more crime stories in this column -- but not the kind you've been hearing lately.

Crimestoppers shows how people have saved themselves, others, and property and prevented crimes by their quick assessments and quick thinking. These are the crimes that didn't happen.

Below are just a few examples of how quick-thinking citizens have thwarted criminals. They assessed the situation intelligently; some didn't challenge the criminal immediately, but contacted police as soon as they could. Others fought back in various ways. They each made a judgment about the possibility of violence in that particular situation and responded appropriately.

A bank teller new to the job found herself faced with a man demanding money at her window. As she listened to him, she realized his grammar was poor and his speech slow. She figured he wasn't too quick and, thinking rapidly, informed the man that he couldn't rob the bank unless he had an account there. It worked -- the disappointed robber left the bank.

In Rochester, New York, 37-year-old John Schieman thought the best time to steal a car was the moment when the owner got out of it. He approached Robin Van Bortle, 32, as she was attaching The Club to her steering wheel. Startled but not panicked, Van Bortle beat Schieman over the head with the anti-theft device. He was later charged with robbery, assault, and grand larceny.

Factory owner Gildo Santos was kidnapped near his factory in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The kidnappers demanded $690,000 for his release -- but he escaped. The kidnappers called him the next day asking for $11,500 to defray the costs of the kidnapping. Incredulous, Santos thought quickly and negotiated a 50 percent reduction. He then arranged a meeting to hand over the money, called the police, and watched his kidnappers being arrested when they showed up to collect.

During a convenience store robbery, the thief decided to steal another customer's wallet. He momentarily set his shotgun on the counter, where it was quickly picked up by the cashier who shot at him as he fled the scene. He was arrested several days later.

Four Kentucky teens stole a car and then decided to rob a corner store. They broke a window in the back and were soon found by the well-armed owner. They fled in the getaway car. Not far away, they ended up sloshing through a creek. Cold and wet, they knocked on a nearby door and demanded that the elderly woman living there let them in. She did, and she also quietly called the police. They were quickly arrested, still wearing the keychains and bandanas they had stolen from the corner store.

A Houma, Louisiana man stole a gun off a dealer's table at a gun show. The dealer saw him, but not in time to prevent the theft. The dealer notified the rest of the gun dealers, asking them to make a report to the police if anyone tried to trade the stolen gun. The thief returned the following day, and he did try to trade the stolen gun at another dealer's table. He explained that the gun was new, but that he had lost the box when he recently moved to Houma. The dealer expressed interest and excused himself momentarily to use the restroom. He quickly contacted police, who arrested the thief that same day.

A fast-food clerk in Ypsilanti, Michigan, used the "If you can't beat 'em, wear 'em down" technique one morning when a man walked in, flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk told him he couldn't operate the cash drawer without a food order. The gunman ordered onion rings, and the clerk informed him that onion rings weren't available for breakfast. The nervous gunman turned and walked out.

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Check this column each month for encouraging stories of crimes that didn't happen.

If you have a similar story of preventing crime or helping to capture a criminal, or know someone else who does, contact Lorna Hartman.

Copyright © 2001, Jeff Koon and Andy Powell, "Dumb Criminal Acts," www.dumbcriminals.com.