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Monday, June 30, 2008

Cops: Grand Theft Auto video game inspired crimes

Teenagers who police say went on a video-game-inspired late-night crime spree were arraigned Thursday after they mugged a man outside a New Hyde Park supermarket and menaced motorists in Garden City with a baseball bat, a crowbar and a broomstick, Nassau police said.

The teens told detectives they were imitating the "Grand Theft Auto" video-game series where characters steal cars, beat up other characters and commit crimes, authorities said.

Police have identified at least three victims: a man they said was severely beaten during a robbery; a would-be carjacking victim; and a driver whose van was smashed with a bat.

Nassau Det. Lt. Raymond Coté said there are likely more victims who were attacked.

At one point during the spree, the initial group of four encountered other youths.

"They realize they know them from school and they can't rob them," Coté said. "Two of them they enlist in this crime spree and now they're joining the pack. It's an angry mob of youths."

The six suspects were all charged as adults.

Arrested and charged with felony robbery were Dylan Laird, 17, of Southborough, Mass., and Stephen Attard, 18, Samuel Philip, 16, Brandon Cruz, 15, and Gurnoor Singh, 14, all of New Hyde Park. Police did not release photos of Cruz or Singh because of their age. Jaspreet Singh, 17, of New Hyde Park, was charged with misdemeanor criminal possession of stolen property and is jailed on $20,000 bond or $10,000 cash bail, a jail official said.

Laird, Attard and Philip were ordered held on $100,000 bond, or $50,000 bail. Cruz and Gurnoor Singh were ordered held on $150,000 bond, or $75,000 cash.

The teens committed the crimes Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, police said.

It began Tuesday when the group was hanging out at a park in New Hyde Park, Coté said.

"They decide that they're going to go do some street robberies, emulating the popular fictional character Niko Bellic," Coté said, referring to a star of "Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City."

The group attacked a man near a New Hyde Park supermarket who had just finished an evening shift and was waiting for a bus, Coté said.

"They approach him from behind, force him to the ground, start punching him, kicking him, knocking the teeth out of his head and take what he has on him," Coté said.

They stole a small amount of cash and a cell phone, he said. After fleeing, the suspects broke into sheds and storage units in a hunt for makeshift weapons including the bat, crowbar and broomstick, Coté said.

Near New Hyde Park Road and Stewart Avenue, they formed a human roadblock. A woman driving a 2008 BMW was forced to stop. Cops say the group wanted to carjack her.

"She was scared for her life," Coté said. They stole her cigarettes, and she sped off and called 911, he said.

The six suspects were arrested by Garden City police responding to a 911 call shortly after the group approached the third victim and hit his car with a bat. [Mark Godsey]

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