Hazlet Police are asking for the public's assistance in indentifying a man who attempted to rob a gas station on Middle Road in Hazlet on the Fourth of July, around 3:40 p.m.
During the failed attempt, the suspect doused an attendant with gasoline, threatened him with a cigarette lighter, brandished a handgun, and then ran off ().
The station attendant was unhurt. His co-worker immediately called 911 and nine Hazlet police officers quickly blanketed the center of town and formed a perimeter to trap the suspect, described as a white male in his 20s, about 5' 10", with two or three days growth of facial hair, and reportedly wearing long pajama pants under a dirty pair of jeans. Area police departments joined the effort at intersections.
A Monmouth County police helicopter already in the air over Long Branch heard the call over the radio and offered to help. As curious people watched from Fourth of July holiday celebrations in backyards, pools and parks and Facebook lit up with rumors, a Hazlet police officer aboard a helicopter swept over the residential Middle Road area and Veterans Park for about a half hour, searching for the suspect.
The suspect is wanted by police for the following indictable offenses: criminal attempt of an armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for criminal purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon, terroristic threats, and aggravated assault by pointing a firearm and throwing ignitable gasoline on a victim.
Palwinder Singh, 27, of Carteret was near the end of a 12-hour shift on a very hot national holiday when the incident happened.
As seen on the surveillance camera videotape, the suspect approached the station from Pine Street carrying a two-gallon red plastic gas container.
"He said, 'Can you break a $100 bill?' and I said 'yes'," said Singh, who told the story at work Thursday.
The suspect took $3 worth of gas, but did not pay for it. Instead, he started talking on a cellphone for about eight long minutes while Singh served occasional customers and eventually sat down for a rest in a folding chair next to the pumps.
The suspect, still on the phone, came to stand next to Singh and his co-worker. He poured a little gas on the ground, which caused the workers to look over to see what he was up doing. After a car rolled in and Singh's co-worker left to serve gas, the suspect took the gas can and poured it on Singh, who jumped up off the chair. The suspect waved a lit cigarette lighter.
Singh told police he said "Give me your money or I'm going to burn you."
Singh said he told the man, "Go ahead."
The suspect showed a bluish-black handgun in his waistband then took it out, using his left hand. Singh told his co-worker to call the cops. A car rolled into the station and the suspect fled behind the back of the gas station. A Hazlet K-9 dog tracked his scent down Pine Street.
Hazlet Police quickly closed down streets in the area. Police were stationed at Angela Circle off Union Avenue, near the Middle School and Raritan High School on Middle Road, and local police departments from other towns anchored pre-determined intersections. They searched the woods on foot. After three hours, they called off the search.
The Racestar surveillance video tapes were retrieved Thursday.
"Take a look at these photos and if you recognize the suspect, please call us even if you want to be anonymous," said Det. Lt. Charles McBride.
"If anyone has seen this person prior or since, call the Hazlet Police Department at 732-264-1705 and speak to any detective," he said.
"This is very serious," said McBride. "Fortunately when the victim did not give up the money, the suspect did not act on it, by shooting him or lighting him on fire. We suggest to everyone [in this situation] that it is not worth your life. Give them the money, get a good description, and let the police handle it. Your life is not worth $100."
Singh said on Thursday that the suspect did not scare him, and that he wants to see him taken off the streets. "I don't want this to happen to somebody else," he said.