MERRILLVILLE | A masked man carjacked a Schererville couple just before 4 p.m. Saturday at a park on 73rd Avenue in Merrillville and robbed a nearby bank, police said.
The crime began at Independence Park near 73rd Avenue and Taft Street, said Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch who was on the scene. A 22-year-old woman and her 23-year-old boyfriend were talking in the park while sitting in her car before they had to report to their respective jobs at nearby restaurants.
The masked man, who displayed a gun to the couple, took the boyfriend's older-model Ford Escort, Petruch said. No one was injured in the carjacking, he said.
The man drove the car to the First Midwest Bank inside the Strack & Van Til grocery store at 7201 Taft St., police said. In the bank area, the man displayed a gun and demanded money, police said.
After receiving the money, the man left the bank and drove the stolen car through the parking lot, police said. A dye pack exploded in the money bag, and the man left it and the stolen car and got into a different car that had been parked at an Admiral gas station next to Strack & Van Til, authorities said.
A witness followed the second car, which was occupied by two men, to 25th Avenue and Colfax Street in Calumet Township before losing sight of it, Petruch said. The witness was able to get the license plate number, he said.
Petruch said late Saturday a car was recovered in the Glen Park section of Gary, and police have suspects of interest who are under investigation. No one has yet been arrested, he said.
The Schererville couple — Katie Grevenstuk and John Skowronski — said they only saw one man who initially got into the passenger side of her red car. Skowronski's silver, older-model Ford Escort sat empty near them.
"I was having a bad day and I wasn't in a good mood," she said. "He asked for the keys to my car and my cellphone. I told him no. He had a gun in a plastic bag and every now and then he would display it, but he never took it out of the bag. John saw it and said he saw a clip in there. He told us we could ride with him and get the car back quickly. I kept telling him no."
Skowronski said he was nervous and worried but his girlfriend kept "getting snappy" with the assailant.
"People are crazy out here. I just wanted him to take the other car and go," he said.
The assailant eventually did take the girl's cellphone but left it in the Ford Escort when he abandoned the car in the store's parking lot. Some of the money and dye pack were visible on the ground next to the car.
Grevenstuk described the assailant they saw as black, about 6 foot 1 and more than 200 pounds. He was searing a blue sweatshirt, ski mask with just his eyes showing. and gloves, she said.
The couple said they were "thankful" they weren't injured.
Merrillville police ask that anyone with information about the armed robbery and carjacking call Cmdr. Jeff Snemis at (219) 769-3531.