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Armed Carjacking Shakes Restaurant Manager, Heightens Police Attention

'It scared me because this has always been a safe town,' a manager at Russillo said as police continue investigation.

There have been no arrests in a weekend armed robbery and carjacking of two men behind a local Italian restaurant that left one of the men with a concussion. 

West Caldwell Police Chief Michael Bramhall said his department is aggressively investigating an incident Saturday night when a pair of men with a handgun assaulted an owner and employee of Russillo Restaurante & Pizzeria. 

“We are pursuing all leads,” said Bramhall. “It is certainly a high priority for us.”

Local police are working with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Armed Robbery and Carjacking Unit, said Bramhall.

Jerry Franco, a manager for the restaurant and resident in town for more than a dozen years, wasn’t working that night but said he was stunned that an armed robbery and carjacking could happen in town.

“It scared me because this has always been a safe town,” said Franco.

“It’s getting kind of scary that a town like West Caldwell can have this type of thing in it, especially after Short Hill and all that,” referencing the Hoboken lawyer who was shot in the head and killed in a carjacking at Short Hills Mall when he and his wife returned to their SUV. 

On Saturday shortly after Russillo closed for the evening around 11:10 p.m., an owner and restaurant cook were walking to the owner’s brand new white BMW located behind the building in the parking lot when a pair of men in ski masks armed with a handgun robbed the owner and cook of personal items.

In addition, one of the robbers punched the cook in the face and he fell straight to the ground, said Franco. The cook was taken to Mountainside Hospital in Glen Ridge and suffered a concussion, said Franco.

The cook is expected to return to work sometime next week, said Franco.

The masked men also got away with the owner’s 2014 BMW. 

The stolen car has not been found, said Bramhall.

There is still little information regarding the descriptions of the armed robbers, said Bramhall. 

One man is described as white and another as black, and one is 5-feet 10-inches tall and the other is 6-feet tall, according to police.

“That’s really all we have on them,” said Bramhall. “We really don’t have a lot to go on as far as descriptions.”

Armed robberies and carjacking is not common to the Caldwells, said Bramhall. There were none in 2013 and the chief of police said he couldn’t recall the last time there was either an armed robbery or carjacking in West Caldwell.

The armed robbery and carjacking has made police more aware of when local businesses are closing, said Bramhall. 

“Recognizing that this was at a retail establishment at closing time, it certainly gives us a heightened sense of awareness … of businesses at closing time,” said Bramhall.  

But Bramhall said that it’s imperative that if residents see something, they need to contact police immediately.

“If you see anything that’s unusual, call us,” said Bramhall. 

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