By Karen Zautyk
A career criminal and accused serial bank robber from Kearny, being transported from the Hudson County Jail to East Orange General Hospital for an examination, was shot and killed last week after freeing himself from his shackles and attempting to escape from corrections officers, authorities reported.
The convict, Robert K. Martin, 40, of 41 Johnston Ave., Kearny, was awaiting trial on multiple federal charges, including the 2010 robbery of a North Arlington bank.
When the Department of Corrections car arrived at the hospital about 9:30 a.m. last Thursday, Martin had managed to get out of his restraints, authorities said. He reportedly struggled with the Hudson County officers who had brought him to East Orange, fled on foot and was shot once after refusing orders to halt. He was pronounced dead at 10:38 a.m. at East Orange General.
Hudson County spokesman James Kennelly said there was videotape of Martin being shackled and cuffed prior to the ride to East Orange.
The shooting is being investigated by the Professional Standards Bureau of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Kennelly noted, however, that initial reports indicated that, under the circumstances the corrections officer “acted properly.”
Martin had been in custody since May 21, 2010, when he was arrested outside his Kearny home in connection with the May 11 armed robbery of the Sovereign Bank at 65 River Road, North Arlington. In that heist, he allegedly got away with $510,293, one of the biggest single bank hauls on state record.
According to a statement released by Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray, in whose jurisdiction last week’s shooting took place, Martin had a record of 14 felony convictions and had been arrested in six states – Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
In addition to the North Arlington crime, federal authorities had charged him in connection with April and May 2010 holdups and an attempted robbery at banks in Union City and Weehawken.
He was facing 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of multiple federal counts, along with additional state charges in Hudson County.
Back in 2010, after the North Arlington robbery, there was a massive manhunt for the bandit, who had entered the bank around 9 a.m., brandishing a .357 Magnum at the three tellers and two customers.
Responding to the scene, in a mini-mall on the banks of the Passaic River, were the State Police, Bergen County Police, Bergen County Sheriff and officers from North Arlington, Kearny, Lyndhurst, Belleville, Nutley and Newark. K9-units, copters and boats searched the area, to no avail.
Then Martin did something very stupid. The night after the robbery, he tried to set his getaway car – a Chevy Blazer stolen from Lodi – on fire. Twice.
The first was an unsuccessful attempt near a private home on Hickory St. off Midland Ave. A witness reported the incident to Kearny police, but the arsonist fled before they arrived.
Martin later drove to Gunnell Oval, set the Blazer ablaze again and abandoned it there.
Kearny police, responding to the reports of a fire, ran the plate number and connected it to a vehicle of interest they had earlier eyed near their Belgrove Drive substation.
Dots were being connected.
On the afternoon of May 21, after keeping Martin’s Johnston Ave. residence under surveillance, cops from Kearny, North Arlington and Union City, along with FBI agents, moved to make the arrest.
“We elected to wait until he came outside,” Kearny Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer at the time. “He walked into the arms of two FBI agents and Det. Paul Dispoto.”
From there, it was off to the county jail in Kearny. Martin allegedly had tried to escape from that, too, about six months ago, using a rope crafted from rags.
Last week, Martin was being taken to the East Orange hospital for a CAT scan after he complained of dizziness and headaches, authorities reported.