It was a little past 2 p.m. Saturday and Tyree Drakeford was pulling a double shift at Keys Cafe & Bakery in downtown St. Paul.
It was cold outside, so Drakeford, a cook, left his unlocked car running out the back door of the restaurant so it would be toasty inside when he jumped in for a 10-minute break.
“I was thinking it was fine,” he said Monday.
When Drakeford stepped out of the restaurant a few minutes later, he and a co-worker saw the car speeding away.
“I heard the screeching tires and knew it was bad,” he said.
So, Drakeford did what any 24-year-old wearing Ken Griffey running shoes would do — he gave chase. On foot.
He ran. And he ran — keeping the car in sight for several blocks.
“I don’t think he saw me running after the car, or he would have been driving faster,” Drakeford said, recalling the chase.
Finally, after several blocks, the car stopped at a red light at the corner of Robert and 7th streets. Drakeford jumped in front of it.
“Get out of my car,” he shouted.
Instead, the man threw the car into reverse — and smashed into a car behind him. He then got out, told Drakeford “You can have the car back,” and started running.
Drakeford paused long enough to call police, then resumed the chase.
Police say the thief ran west on 7th Street, then south on Minnesota. Then he popped into the Town Square mall, with Drakeford in pursuit.
At one point, as the man ran up an escalator, he lost a shoe. Drakeford, still on the phone with police, picked it up.
“I had my phone in one hand, his shoe in the other,” Drakeford said. “We ran all through the skyways.”
They ran down another escalator, then back outside. Then, just inside the outer doors of the entrance to the old Macy’s building on Wabasha, the winded thief finally gave up.
“He put his hands up, but I thought he was going to attack me,” said Drakeford, who stands 5-foot-11 inches and weighs about 140 pounds. So, Drakeford said, he punched the man “four or five times.” By the time police showed up, the car thief was out cold.
A spokesman for the police department said Monday that the man was taken to Regions Hospital for evaluation. No other information about him was available.
“If he would have just stopped at the beginning, there would have been no problem,” Drakeford said Monday afternoon.
As for chasing the guy, Drakeford said he never gave it much thought.
“I just did it,” he said. “Besides, I’m a pretty fast dude.”