When police arrived, the heavily-armed robbers were trapped, but they refused to surrender. They started shooting. A few explosive moments later, three of the four men were wounded and all were captured. One died a few weeks later.
The city officers who exchanged gunfire with the desperate crew of ex-convicts walked away unscathed. No bystanders were injured.
For the clean execution of the takedown, the five men have been honored with one of law enforcement’s most prestigious awards. A detective from North Brunswick, who was fired on before the alleged robbers made it into New Brunswick, received the award with them.
The officers will formally receive the Top Cops Award for outstanding service from the National Association of Police Organizations on May 14 in Washington, D.C. The group is a nationwide coalition of police officers, retired officers and associations.
“It was the biggest shoot-out in New Brunswick history, and, hopefully, it will never happen again,” said New Brunswick Police Director Peter Mangarella.
The patrol officers involved in the exchange of gunfire were John Langan, 41, now a 15-year department veteran; Adan Ramirez, 36, a eight-year veteran; and Michael Coppola, 33, and Gregory Liszczak, 26, both five-year members of the force.
Despite the chaos, a fifth officer, John “Gary” Yurcovik Jr., 27, now a seven-year veteran of the New Brunswick Police Department, did not fire a round. Given the density of the neighborhood and the location of other police officers and civilians, Yurcovik used good judgment, Mangarella said.
Detective Steven Dunkel, 48, a 23-year veteran of the North Brunswick Police Department, also played a role in the successful capture.
Mangarella attributed the actions of the officers to their bravery — and to something more tangible.
“What it showed was that a lot of training we give to our officers pays off,” Mangarella said. “It was extremely impressive how they conducted themselves. These guys in a high-pressure situation responded to the training. One of the things they all said was it was amazing how it kicked in.”
North Brunswick Police Director Kenneth McCormick said Dunkel was the first to spot the robbers after they changed vehicles in North Brunswick. When he pulled them over, Dunkel saw flashes and then saw the rear window of the van they were in blow out. The shots missed him and his cruiser.
“He hung in there after being shot at and continued the pursuit,” into New Brunswick, McCormick said.
The three remaining ex-convicts, from Essex and Hudson counties, face federal charges in the takeover hold-up of the Bank of America branch on Route 27 in Franklin.
The award is among 10 given out around the country each year. The selection is made from departments in the 50 states and all U.S. territories. Also receiving Top Cop awards this year are officers from Colorado Springs, Colo., Palm Beach County, Fla., South Holland, Ill., Union County, Miss., Montana, Syracuse, N.Y., Warren, Ohio, Virginia State Police and the police officers from Fort Hood, Tex., who brought down the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people.