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More than $1 million in jewelry taken after man smashed Jared cases with hammers, records say

Altonio Benson and Darren Bell

CROWN POINT — A judge refused to reduce bond for a man accused of robbing a Hobart store of more than $1 million in jewelry and spitting on an officer during a foot chase.

Altonio Benson, 40, of Detroit, is being held at the Lake County Jail on $75,000 bond on charges alleging he and at least two other men shattered glass cases at Jared The Galleria of Jewelry with hammers Jan. 25 and ran off with bags of jewelry.

Benson and co-defendant Darren S. Bell, 29, of Detroit, ran north across U.S. 30 from the store near Southlake Mall and were caught by police, Lake Criminal Court records say.

Benson's attorney, John Cantrell, said Benson has no ties to the area but "is going to come back here and defend himself."

Benson's family has about $800 for his bail, Cantrell said.

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Brown said Benson is a flight risk and danger to the community, because of a criminal history that includes six weapons and drugs cases.

Benson was wanted on a warrant for violating probation at the time of his arrest in Hobart, Brown said.

Cantrell said, "There was a lot of chaos out there, and everyone was running," before Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray cut him off.

"We're not hear to try the case," Murray said. "Motion denied."

Police said a third suspect escaped by driving a stolen Dodge minivan to the south side of a mall and running to a vehicle parked near the Huntington Cove Apartments.

An officer briefly held Benson at gunpoint after Benson jumped down to a merchandise loading dock just east of Party City's main entrance, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Benson refused to hold his hands up to be handcuffed, then spit on an officer as the office used a pressure point to get Benson to comply, records allege. The officer pulled Benson's hood down over his face to prevent the spitting. 

Bell has pleaded not guilty. His bond is currently set at $50,000. A bond reduction hearing for Bell is set for Tuesday. 

Police recovered more than half of the $1 million in jewelry from two bags dropped on the ground and from a ditch along U.S. 30, police said.

Anyone with information about the identity of the third suspect or the robbery is asked to contact Sgt. David Evans at 219-942-3406 or devans@cityofhobart.org

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Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.