COLUMBUS, Ohio – A woman being driven around in a rented limousine pulled up at a coat store and announced she’d 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, leaving the store looking as though a hurricane had passed through it, police said.
Linda Brown was arrested Tuesday after an hours-long shopping spree that began when she hired a stretch Hummer limousine to drop her off at a Burlington Coat Factory store, police Sgt. Lt. Michael Deakins said. Brown 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,” 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 up purchase after purchase, but Brown had not yet paid the bill, Deakins said. At least 500 people filled the aisles and another 1,000 were outside trying to get in, he said.
“She was telling people she won $1.5 million,” Deakins said. “But it ends up she didn’t win anything. She had no money to pay for anything.”
About an hour later, Brown had the limousine driver take her to a bank to withdraw money, but she returned empty-handed, police Detective Steven Nace said. By then, store employees had called in two dozen police officers to handle the crowds.
Shopper Candace Jordan said she told Brown she didn’t need clothes, she needed help paying her rent.
“And she said, ‘How much is it?”‘ Jordan told WBNS-TV. “And she promptly wrote out a check.”
By the time employees realized Brown didn’t have any cash to pay, police said, she already had taken off in the limo.
That’s when angry customers, realizing they weren’t getting free coats, began throwing merchandise on the floor and grabbing clothes without paying for them, 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’re reviewing surveillance video.
When the limousine driver realized he wasn’t going to be paid the $900 Brown owed him for the day’s rental, he turned her in to police, Deakins said.
Brown, 44, was arrested on three outstanding warrants for aggravated menacing, misuse of a 911 system and causing false alarms. She was jailed late Wednesday, but no charges had been filed against her related to the coat store chaos pending a mental health evaluation.
Police said they didn’t know if Brown had a lawyer. No telephone number was listed under her name, and no one answered repeated phone calls at the Franklin County Jail.
A spokeswoman for Burlington Coat Factory, which is based in Burlington, N.J., and has more than 300 stores across the country, said late Wednesday she couldn’t comment on the incident.