CVP EXCLUSIVE: The terrifying 2011 heist of Hartgers Jewelry store in Wyckoff – in which a group of robbers with sledgehammers made off with $1 million in merchandise after smashing cases and knocking down customers – will be revisited, now that the admitted getaway driver has refused a plea deal.
Although three co-defendants admitted their roles in the robbery and police chase that followed, jury selection in the trial of Adrian C. Hicken is set to begin Tuesday, following a brief hearing in Hackensack this morning.
Hicken told Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma that he’d rather take his chances with a jury than accept a 15-year stretch offered by prosecutors.
Roma, however, warned Hicken that he could face 50 years if convicted of all charges.
For one thing, there are officers who sustained injuries after the getaway car hit their cruisers during the chase, the judge said. For another, he said, Hicken bears responsibility for everything that happened inside the store, under state law.
“As long as I have explained your risk, we are ready to go ahead,” Roma told him. “Don’t look back in the middle of the trial and say you want the plea.”
Among the original charges brought against Hicken were: aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault with a weapon, robbery, theft, eluding, hindering and obstruction.
Earlier this week, Hicken and his attorney argued that one of the charges should be straight robbery and not armed robbery. They also contested the admission of two videos — one from the store’s internal surveillance camera and another from a police vehicle – as evidence. Roma rejected both arguments.
The holdup at the Wyckoff Avenue store began just before noon on Saturday, April 9.
After an employee buzzed him in, one of the robbers pretended to look around. Then, acting as if he was leaving, he held the door open for two others wearing ski masks and carrying sledgehammers.
One robber began smashing glass cases of Rolexes, while the other raided a safe containing rings and necklaces.
“They had pillow cases and scooped up as much as they could,” Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said.
Storeowner Gregg Hartgers and his partner tried fighting them off but were restrained, authorities said. Two female customers were knocked down, as well, the store’s surveillance cameras show.
“It was very violent,” Fox said.
The trio got into a Chevy Tahoe with Delaware plates that authorities said was driven by Hicken, 37, of Effort, PA. The truck headed down Route 208, leading to what briefly became a high-speed chase.
One of the robbers jumped out at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Ewing Avenue in Franklin Lakes and was quickly grabbed by Wyckoff Sgt. Jack McEwan and Franklin Lakes Police Officer Rich Osenbruck.
Meanwhile, officers from Ridgewood, Hawthorne and Franklin Lakes joined in the hunt.
With speeds getting dangerously high, police opted for a stakeout coordinated by Patrol Sgt. Glenn Ender on Goffle Road in Wyckoff, near the border of both Hawthorne and Ridgewood.
There, Hicken reportedly crashed the Tahoe into a patrol car driven by Hawthorne Officer Joe Carr.
He then turned down dead-ended Coe Avenue and, realizing his mistake, pulled into the parking lot of a Goffle Road shopping center.
Hawthorne Sgt. Mark Michalski pulled his cruiser in front of the truck, but police said Hicken rammed it nearly head-on with the Tahoe (Both Michalski and Carr were later treated at an area hospital for various injuries).
All three robbers bailed out but were quickly grabbed – Hicken by Ridgewood Police Officer Patrick Elwood.
Andre C. Lewis and Darren Ellis of Brooklyn and Maurice J. Highland are scheduled to be sentenced June 7 after each pleading guilty to armed robbery and resisting arrest.
Hyland and Lewis agreed to sentences of 14 years, with no parole eligibility for nearly 12. Ellis took 12 years, with no parole eligibility for more than 10.
Their terms could be affected, however, by how much they cooperate with prosecutors in Hicken’s trial.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin in Roma’s courtroom at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Hicken, meanwhile, remains held on $250,000 bail in the Bergen County Jail.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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