Police pick up robbery suspects on Route 18

EAST BRUNSWICK — Three New Brunswick men have been arrested in robberies and assaults outside the Mid-State Mall, Route 18.

Police responded to the shopping center shortly after 9 p.m. Jan. 3 when a man called to say he had been robbed at knifepoint, and though they could not initially find the caller, officers found three other people who told them they had been robbed or assaulted.

A short time later, police would arrest Simon Merino and Luis Hernandez, both 20, and Raul Diaz, 26, charging them in the events at and around the Mid-State Mall parking lot.

Patrolmen John Breen and Jeff Marino first responded to the call and found a 72-year-old female in the area of Borders Books who stated that her purse had been stolen The woman had been getting into a car with her husband when an unknown man pulled her purse off her shoulder, causing her to fall to the ground and her to hit her face on the pavement. She suffered a laceration to the bridge of her nose. The purse contained $1,100 cash, identification, checks, and credit cards.

A female witness walking near Borders at the time told police she saw the assailant running toward the rear of the bookstore. As she attempted to follow him she was struck by a second male in the right arm by what she thought was a bat. She described her attacker as a Mexican male, 5 feet 5 inches tall, wearing a black jacket.

Patrolman Mike DiBuono soon located the victim of the original robbery near Frank’s Pizza. The man said he had been robbed at knifepoint on Old Bridge Turnpike in South River. He claimed that three Mexican males approached him and one put a knife to his throat, while another held a knife up in front of him, and the third held a bat across his throat. The assailants took the man’s umbrella and house keys.

While checking the surrounding area for the suspects, Breen and Marino located three Hispanic males walking north on Route 18 near Edgeboro Road. The three males matched the description of the robbery suspects, police said. When the officers approached the suspects, they observed the point of a knife sticking through the rear pants pocket of the man identified as Simon Merino, police said The suspect identified as Raul Diaz was found to be carrying a rubber knife in his coat pocket, police said, and the officers also discovered a broken pool cue hidden in Diaz’s pants under his black leather jacket. All three suspects were found to be carrying cash, according to police.

South River police transported the man who had been robbed in their town to positively identify the three suspects. The husband of the 72-year-old victim from the parking lot was able to identify Merino as the man who robbed his wife, police said. And the witness to that robbery identified Luis Hernandez as the person who assaulted her as she attempted to follow the other man, police reported.

Police said Hernandez later led police to the spot where the victim’s purse had been discarded, and the property from both robberies was found on the suspects.

All three suspects were charged with robbery, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, theft and possession of stolen property. Hernandez and Merino were also charged with aggravated assault. All three were transported to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, North Brunswick, and held in lieu of $25,000 bail.