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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

Fake freebies spark store riot in

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - A woman being driven around in a rented limousine pulled up at a coat store and announced she had won the lottery and would pay for everyone's purchases, police said, but she ended up causing a riot when customers realized it was a hoax.

Angry customers threw merchandise around and looted, police said.

Linda Brown was arrested Tuesday. It began when she hired a Hummer stretch limousine to drop her off at a Burlington Coat Factory store, police Sgt. Lt. Michael Deakins said.

She walked to a cash register and loudly announced she had won the lottery and would pay for each person's merchandise up to $500, he said.

"Well, of course, people like to hear that," Lieutenant Deakins said. "Apparently they were in line calling relatives who were not at the store and told them to come."

People flooded the registers as cashiers began ringing, Lieutenant Deakins said. At least 500 people filled aisles, with another 1,000 outside trying to get in, he said.

"She was telling people she won $1.5 million," the lieutenant said. "But it ends up she didn't win anything. She had no money to pay for anything."

About an hour later, Ms. Brown had the limousine driver take her to a bank to withdraw money, but returned empty-handed, Detective Steven Nace said. Store employees had called in two dozen police officers to handle the crowds.

By the time employees realized Ms. Brown had no cash to pay, police said, she had taken off in the limo.

That's when angry customers, realizing they were not getting free coats, began throwing merchandise on the floor and grabbing clothes without paying for them, Detective Nace said.

"Everybody was like, 'I still want my free stuff,' and that started the riot," he said. "It looks like [Hurricane] Katrina went through the store."

Police said they have no way of tracking down the customers who stole items and fled, but they are reviewing surveillance video.

When the limousine driver realized he wasn't going to be paid the $900 Ms. Brown owed him for the day's rental, he turned her in to police, Lieutenant Deakins said.

Ms. Brown, 44, was arrested on three outstanding warrants for aggravated menacing, misuse of a 911 system, and causing false alarms. She remains jailed, but no charges had been filed against her related to the coat store chaos. A mental health evaluation is pending.



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