A man who left his car running after he got out to use the ATM at his bank watched in horror as a thief slid behind the wheel and sped off with his 11-year-old son in the back seat, police in Tenafly, NJ said.
The frightened father dashed out of the Chase Bank vestibule and grabbed the driver’s door handle of his Audi A8 — but was knocked to the ground as the thief sped off on Central Avenue shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday, April 3, Capt. Michael deMoncada said.
The father ran down the street after the car, as a Good Samaritan who saw what was happening also took up the chase in his vehicle, the captain said.
A short distance away, the thief stopped the sedan near the West Railroad Avenue intersection, apparently after realizing the child was in the back seat, deMoncada said.
He got out of the Audi and into a trailing BMW SUV that had been seen prowling neighborhoods earlier, he said.
The father, who called 911 at that point, was quickly reunited with his unharmed son, the captain said.
The thief was part of a gang of vehicle thieves who were captured on video trolling neighborhoods in a BMW X3 or X5, testing door handles and then moving on when they found cars locked late Sunday morning, he said.
The same SUV was used in several other attempted thefts in neighboring Englewood a short time earlier, deMoncada said. These were unsuccessful because the owners had locked their vehicles and taken their key fobs, he said.
An Oak Street resident near Serpentine Road in Tenafly called police around10:45 a.m. Sunday to report seeing a man who later fit the description of the Audi thief trying the handle of a vehicle in his driveway.
After finding it unlocked, home security video whos, he got into the BMW SUV, whose driver had stopped it in the street.
Officers were converging on the area when a Leroy Street resident reported seeing a thief emerge from a similar SUV, then leave just as quickly after finding another locked vehicle. The SUV had New York license plates, the caller said.
Security video once again showed the same bandit in that attempt who was wanted in the other two incidents, deMoncada said. He was black, wearing light-colored blue sneakers, black sweatpants, a black hooded sweatshirt, black gloves and a blue surgical mask, the captain said.
A resident the day before wasn’t so fortunate after leaving the key fob inside an unlocked Land Rover stolen from a residential driveway on Coppell Drive.
The thieves in that case were driving a BMW sedan reported stolen out of Nassau County, Long Island, that they ditched after taking the Land Rover – a common maneuver, deMoncada said.
Officers were actually speaking with one of the would-be victims when they got the 911 call from the area of the bank.
“Our officers and detectives have been in contact with local and regional law enforcement partners and have issued a BOLO [Be On the Lookout] alert for the suspect BMW SUV,” deMoncada said afterward.
The captain repeated a constant refrain heard not just in more affluent northeast Bergen County towns but across North Jersey.
“Our officers are on patrol, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and we have likely thwarted multiple car thefts over the last several weeks by proactively patrolling our neighborhoods,” he said. “But we need the public’s help.
“We can’t say it enough and it bears repeating: Always lock your cars and remove all key fobs when you park your vehicle,” deMoncada said said. “In addition, be aware of your surroundings and report suspicious activity immediately.
“Don’t wait. If you see something, please say something,” he urged. “We would rather respond to investigate something suspicious and determine all was OK than find out later that someone saw the suspects in the area but didn’t want to bother us by calling.
“We are proud of the partnership with have with the community,” deMoncada said. “It seems that the majority of people are heeding our warnings to keep their parked vehicles locked. Unfortunately, it seems the criminal element is changing their tactics by targeting unattended vehicles left running outside of businesses.”
In the horrifying bank incident, he said, “we are fortunate that the thief was smart enough to safely stop and flee the area once he realized there was an innocent child in the car. However, that does not make this incident any less traumatic for the victims or less serious for responding officers.”
Despite new state laws and attorney general directives that prohibit police from chasing vehicle thieves — as well as a bail reform law that quickly frees those who are caught — deMoncada said that Tenafly police and their colleagues everywhere want citizens to know that “our officers are dedicated to doing everything within our legal authority to catch these criminals and see they are brought to justice.”
The captain issued an appeal to residents or business owners to check their security footage for proof of similar unreported incidents.
He asked them and anyone else who saw or sees something suspicious, or has any information that can help police investigate the stolen car crime wave, to contact the Tenafly Police Detective Bureau at (201) 568-5100.
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