Two men were arrested in the pre-dawn hours yesterday for serial car thefts after a chase on the Western Express Highway that was reminiscent of a supercharged crime thriller. Two accomplices of the arrested men managed to escape.
The four suspects played hide-and-seek with the police for over two hours. A police officer was seriously injured when he tried to stop the thieves by clinging to the stolen car and was dragged along for over 20 feet.
The arrested men were identified as Anil Soni (22) and Raju Jha alias Tichki (23), and the two wanted accused as Siraj Fakhruddin (22) and Bablu Munshi Sheth (22).
ASI Dutta Sanobat, a recently promoted officer from the Kherwadi police station, was stated to be in a critical condition, having sustained injuries to the back of his head when the accused tried to run him over.
Police Sub-Inspector Pravin Kharade of the Kherwadi police station said the four accused first stole a white Indica from Dharavi, but the vehicle broke down near the Bandra railway bridge on the Western Express Highway around 3.30 am.
Kharade said the four then robbed a man of his red Swift when he stopped near them to answer the call of nature.
Kaushik Tiwari (30), who was in the Swift and was headed towards the airport, tried to resist the four, but the police said he could not do much as the accused threatened him with a chopper.
At this point a Kherwadi police station patrolling team arrived at the spot, and ASI Sanobat stepped out of the police van to intervene, but the four accused were in the Swift by that time and the driver did not stop as the officer caught hold of the bonnet.
Dragged for more than 20 feet, Sanobat received a heavy blow to the back of his head. He was rushed to a local hospital and later moved to Bombay Hospital, where his condition was stated to be critical.
Police Inspector Avdhoot Chavan of the Kherwadi police station, which is located on the highway, said Tiwari informed them that his car had GPS, following which the vehicle’s movements were monitored. He said wireless messages about the location of the stolen Swift were passed on to all police stations.
An official from the Kherwadi police station said when the robbers sensed they were being chased, they took a U-turn on the highway at Kandivli. He said in 30 minutes the thieves were back near Vakola Pipeline, and after stopping the car they dispersed.
The police said around 4 am Sheth and Fakhruddin went towards Kherwadi while Soni and Jha disappeared into an area thick with trees.
The police launched a search operation near Vakola Pipeline and cordoned off the area. The police then decided to wait till morning to go inside the jungle-like area.
The police entered the wooded area at 6 am, and around the same time Soni and Jha chose to step out of it. They were spotted and arrested.
The police said the arrested men were history-sheeters and had been externed from their respective areas — Soni from Vakola and Jha from Nirmal Nagar.
The police said the accused operated in a group and had committed several robberies in the Andheri-Bandra belt. The two arrested men were produced in the Bandra court later in the day and remanded in police custody.