WATERVILLE — A man who allegedly snatched a woman’s purse Tuesday at a downtown shop, sprinted across Castonguay Square and jumped over a guardrail near the Kennebec River was caught by police moments afterward in the bushes at Head of Falls, near the river’s edge.

Jesse Peterson, 28, listed as transient, was wet from the waist down as police escorted him just after 1 p.m. from a wooded trail behind the Waterville Family Practice/Morning Sentinel building on Front Street and put him into the back seat of a cruiser in the parking lot near the Two-Cent Bridge.

Officer Chase Fabian handcuffed Peterson, who allegedly had stolen the purse, which contained jewelry valued at more than $1,200 from the pocketbook of a customer at the Paragon Shop, according to Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department.

Peterson was charged with felony theft and possession of drugs. Police said he was carrying a small plastic bag that later tested positive for cocaine.

“He spontaneously told the police officers that he is a drug addict and committed the theft to get money for drugs,” Rumsey said.

A woman reported she was leaning over a counter looking at merchandise at the Paragon Shop, at the corner of Main and Silver streets, when she felt her pocketbook over her shoulder move and saw a man quickly walking away from her.

“She instinctively and immediately realized what happened and shouted, ‘Stop!'” Rumsey said. “Her husband gave chase and pursued him and he ran up Main Street to Common Street to the Morning Sentinel building and jumped over the guardrail.”

Police cruisers rushed down Common Street and into the Waterville Family Practice/Morning Sentinel parking lot, drove around the back of the building and back onto Front Street, where they turned east into the Head of Falls parking lot.

Officers, including Fabian, Matt Libby, Detective Jason Longley and Sgt. Lincoln Ryder, spread out over the area, looking among the trees and bushes, and on the railroad trestle behind the building that crosses the river.

Detective Duane Cloutier was in the area and drove to Head of Falls, jumped out of a cruiser and went to a trail, where he found and detained Peterson, Rumsey said.

Peterson, who was wet from apparently falling into the river, “voluntarily turned over a small pouch containing jewelry stolen from the victim’s purse,” Rumsey said. He said the only item not recovered from the purse was a diamond stud earring valued at about $110.

Police at the scene produced the small brown leather purse with a gold zipper, saying it contained jewelry.

Meanwhile, as Peterson was put into the police cruiser, he yelled, “Waterville is a cultural wasteland!”

His comment harkened back to an uproar that occurred in Waterville in 1987 when John Chmura, city administrator at the time, referred to Waterville as “kind of a cultural wasteland” during a job interview in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, where he was applying for a job as town manager. The quote was published in the Tewksbury Town Crier and then the Morning Sentinel, and Chmura was fired but later reinstated. He eventually left Waterville and has since died.

Peterson also said as he was being put into the cruiser Tuesday, “More culture in that camera than this f— town,” apparently referring to a camera held by a Morning Sentinel photographer who was taking his picture. “I hope it goes on the record that I gave it (the stolen purse) away.”

Rumsey said around 3 p.m. that Peterson was still at the police station, where his bail was set at $1,000 cash bail, and he was going to be taken to Kennebec County jail in Augusta, Rumsey said. Before going to Augusta, Peterson would be taken to Inland Hospital in Waterville, because he said he was ill and suicidal, according to Rumsey.

Peterson is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 10 in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta. Rumsey said Peterson was convicted of drinking in public in 2006 and was fined.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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