By Marion Filler and Kevin Coughlin
A judge on Tuesday issued a bench warrant for Tamas Knecht, the New York man who was released from custody in April after leading police through several towns in a high speed chase that ended at gunpoint outside the Kings supermarket in Morristown.
Knecht, 44, failed to appear at a virtual court hearing before state Superior Court Judge David Ironson.
Knecht is accused of eluding police in a stolen Honda, at times hitting 70 mph on 25 mph roads during a chase that stretched from Morristown through Morris Township, Morris Plains and Hanover, culminating in his capture after a tense standoff witnessed by shoppers on April 4, 2020.
Knecht was released that day on his own recognizance at the direction of Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Justin Tellone, according to police records.
In April, and again on Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on why Knecht was released.
The episode unfolded as jails across the state were releasing nonviolent offenders, per a court order, in hopes of stemming the spread of the coronavirus within the prison system.
Shoppers are unlikely to forget what they saw on that Saturday morning, a scene that could have ended badly for Knecht.
New Jersey State Police, Morris County Park Police, Hanover Township Police and Morris Township Police swooped into the Kings parking lot, sealing the exits. Some officers aimed their weapons at Knecht, who stood in front of the supermarket entrance casually smoking a cigarette, one eyewitness recounted.
“I saw police screaming, ‘Get on the ground! We’re going to shoot you, get on the ground,'” said the shopper, a Morristown woman who was in the checkout line when the chaos erupted, around 8 am.
Knecht, wearing a long, tattered jacket and appearing disheveled, ignored the commands, while another shopper, a man, pleaded with him: ‘Get down, they’re going to shoot you! You need to get down on the ground,” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld.
As Kings employees herded customers to the back of the store, Morristown Police Officer Mike Cerick — who had pursued Knecht as far as Morris Plains before handing off the chase to other officers — sprinted across South Street from Morristown police headquarters to Kings, and tackled Knecht, according to a police report.
A subsequent search found that Knecht was unarmed.
The chain of events started about an hour earlier, when an attendant at a Morris Street gas station reported a man in a white Honda had stiffed him for a $22.02 fill-up.
Police ran the plate number and found it corresponded with a car reported stolen in New York City earlier that morning.
Cerick stopped the vehicle near Domino’s Pizza on Speedwell Avenue, approached with his gun drawn, and ordered the driver to exit with his hands visible. The suspect sped off, flying through a red light at Speedwell and Cory Road, according to a police report.
In addition to charges of eluding police, receiving stolen property and theft of services, Knecht also was charged by Morristown police with speeding, reckless driving and driving without a license, among other motor vehicle offenses.
At Tuesday’s pre-indictment conference, Judge Ironson was informed that attempts to reach Knecht via phone and mail had failed. Knecht also did not respond for an initial court appearance last month, said Assistant Prosecutor Alexis Keller.
Ironson granted the prosecutor’s request for a warrant for Knecht’s arrest, while suggesting another try at contacting him. Perhaps, the judge said, the defendant was “around but didn’t receive the notice.”