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Owners Fortify Vehicles As Carjackings Rise

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WEST CALDWELL, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A month after a Hoboken attorney was killed in a carjacking at The Mall at Short Hills, other terrifying tales of similar thefts are emerging in New Jersey.

In West Caldwell, a restaurant owner escaped with his life, but armed thieves made off with his new BMW. And on Tuesday night at an apartment complex, also in Short Hills, carjackers stole a luxury sport utility vehicle.

As CBS 2’s John Slattery reported, Russillo’s Pizzeria owner Chris Robinson, 41, was walking out of his West Caldwell restaurant with an employee at closing time Saturday night, when they were suddenly approached by two men in ski masks. One had a gun.

“I got on the ground — the gun to my head, his knee in my back,” Robinson said. “He said, ‘Give me your keys, your wallet, your phone.’ He had a gun on me and he told me, ‘Don’t move, or I’ll kill you.'”

Robinson said the assailants put tie wraps around his hands and ankles. The other assailant walked around the car and viciously struck the employee in the face.

“I went over to my buddy, who was knocked out cold, and he was tied as well,” Robinson said.

Chris Robinson was carjacked in front of his restaurant in West Caldwell, N.J. (Credit: CBS 2)

Chris Robinson was carjacked in front of his restaurant in West Caldwell, N.J. (Credit: CBS 2)

The thieves made off with Robinson’s white 2014 BMW 528, with New Jersey license plate No. A82 DVF. Police said the incident involving Robinson was the first car-jacking in West Caldwell in some 20 years.

The victim in the Short Hills apartment complex carjacking was unharmed but was too shaken to speak to CBS 2 on Thursday. A neighbor said everyone in the area is on edge after that carjacking and the deadly attack at the mall last month.

“One of our neighbors did grocery shopping this evening, and when they parked their car … I actually saw they were looking around,” the woman told CBS 2’s Lou Young.

Experts say carjackings are on the rise because newer cars can’t be hot-wired and driven off. Now you need the keys, which is the first thing Robinson’s assailants demanded.

As a result, car-security experts told Young carjacking victims who can afford it are lining up to make their new rides bulletproof.

“The car right here in the shop and the last four cars that we’re doing and the next car that we have to do were all victims who’ve been carjacked,” said Jeffrey Jankelovits, president of Manhattan Armor.

On Thursday, for example, Manhattan Armor was installing Kevlar Armor in a sports sedan — security that costs twice what the car was purchased for. Car owners are also replacing their windows with ballistic glass and installing special tires that can be driven on after being shot.

It’s apparent, police say, thieves are willing to kill if necessary to get the cars they want.

“I’ve known of other towns where cars have been stolen, and they’ve actually been found eventually overseas and in other countries,” West Caldwell Police Chief Michael Bramhall said.

The Essex County prosecutor’s office said there were 429 carjackings there in 2013.

In the Short Hills mall carjacking on Dec. 15, Dustin Friedland, 30, and his wife were leaving the upscale shopping center when they were confronted by two armed men as they were getting into their 2012 Range Rover on the third-floor parking deck, prosecutors said.

A struggle ensued when the men allegedly demanded the keys to the SUV, authorities said. Friedland may have been trying to protect his wife, who was already in the vehicle when the suspects put a gun to his head, sources said.

Friedland was shot in the head and died at a hospital hours later. His wife was unharmed.

The Range Rover was found the next morning at an abandoned, boarded-up house on Renner Avenue in Newark, about 11 miles from where the fatal shooting took place.

Hanif Thompson, 29, of Irvington; Karif Ford, 31, of Newark; Basim Henry, 32, of Newark; and Kevin Roberts, 33, of Newark, are all charged with murder, felony murder, carjacking, conspiracy, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose. They all pleaded not guilty last week.

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