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Restaurateur tracks down, knocks out iPhone theft suspect

JasChan restrains alleged iPhone thief JustBallog calls police Nov. 7.  |  Phocourtesy Eric Sawitoski

Jason Chan restrains the alleged iPhone thief, Justin Ballog, and calls the police on Nov. 7. | Photo courtesy Eric Sawitoski

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Updated: December 13, 2013 6:22AM

As a former bouncer and martial arts master, Jason Chan has an eye out for people who look like trouble.

So on Thursday, when a man who seemed nervous walked into Juno, the restaurant he co-owns, Chan kept his eye on him. The man seemed too disheveled to be trying to get a table at the Michelin-recognized restaurant at 2638 N. Lincoln Ave.

“He had his jacket in his hand, and it was kind of cold out,” Chan said.

The man asked the bartender for a piece of paper and a pen, then he placed his jacket on the bar. He quickly grabbed it back and ran out of the restaurant as Chan watched.

Chan asked the customer closest to where the man had stood if he had his phone, which had been on the bar. Gary Wolske, a Juno regular, told Chan his iPhone 5 was missing.

Wolske went to the nearest police station to file a report.

Chan, on the other hand, went to get the phone back.

“I have a protective nature, I guess,” Chan said.

After checking the bars on either side of the restaurant, Chan got in his car and drove a few blocks, looking for the man, who was wearing a distinctively striped sweater.

He saw him walk into Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria at Wrightwood and Lincoln.

Chan pulled up in front of the pizzeria and confronted him as he tried to repeat his jacket ploy at the bar.

“We engaged with each other, and he tried to push me out of the way and run out,” Chan said. “I grabbed him and threw him into the door.”

While people watching the incident called police, Chan, who teaches a type of martial art called Shidokan, fought the man on the sidewalk.

“He was adversarial, [so I used] hand-to-hand combat techniques to make sure he was unconscious,” Chan said.

“I put him in a maneuver called an arm bar and told him I would break his arm if he tried to get away,” Chan said. The man kept fighting, so Chan knocked him out with a kick to the face and neutralized him until the police arrived a few minutes later.

When the man came to, Chan made him admit what he had done — and where the phone was — to the crowd that had gathered.

Police arrested Justin Ballog, 37, of the 5000 block of North California, who was charged with misdemeanor theft, according to a police spokeswoman.

Chan met Wolske at the police station after work and filed a complaint.

Chan said police told him that petty theft had increased recently in the area of bars and restaurants along Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park. The police spokeswoman declined to comment.

Chan said he has practiced and taught Shidokan for 19 years. He said other than an incident earlier this year, he hasn’t used it outside the gym in more than a decade.

Wolske said he won’t be leaving his phone on the bar again — but he will go back to Juno, which got a Michelin Bib Gourmand rating just last week.

“It does send a message: This tough guy, Jason, and his neighbors are not going to allow this,” Wolske said.

Wolske sent Chan a bottle of 12-year-old, single-malt Glenlivet scotch on Friday to show his appreciation.

“He’s like the modern-day John Wayne, or Bruce Lee. . . . He takes it to heart: What’s right is right.”


Twitter: @dhnovak

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