Haddonfield Police say motor vehicle and criminal charges are pending for an unidentified person who destroyed a storefront, scattered pedestrians, and attempted to force his way into several homes Thursday night.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 17, 2023
Chef Ian Whitfield of the British Chip Shop in Haddonfield was in the kitchen a little before 6 p.m. Thursday when he heard a noise so loud that he thought the ceiling of his restaurant was collapsing.
As Whitfield emerged to the front of the house, the couple that had been sitting at the table in his front window flew out of their seats, scooping up their babies, and screaming as they ran toward him.
“They thought the car was going to come through the window,” he said.
The vehicle, a white Dodge Charger, didn’t actually come through the window. However, it demolished half the storefront façade on its way toward the Kings Court plaza.
The driver rambled down the Kings Highway sidewalk towards the heart of town as pedestrians shrieked and ducked into doorways.
Whitfield, who said that business was just starting to pick up after a summer lull, was stunned by the spectacle.
“This is something that happens in New York, Chicago; a city, not downtown Haddonfield,” he said.
Across the courtyard, Yvonne Baird was waiting on customers in her boutique, Country Way Bridal, when she head “a loud, loud bang and screech.”
Baird emerged from the shop to discover tire tracks and bits of burned rubber on the sidewalk.
“I’ve been in Haddonfield for 16 years, and I’ve never seen or heard anything like this,” she said.
Students Alanis Larsen and Lauren Aquino of Cherry Hill were sitting in the front window of the Starbucks at the corner of Kings Highway when the Dodge whipped by.
“I was on the phone with my friend doing homework when I heard people screaming,” Aquino said.
“I turned my head and saw a car with the front off of it; it was wrecked.”
People scattered as the driver peeled out into the intersection and sped down Haddon Avenue, Larsen said.
“At first I didn’t know how close it was,” she said. “You could hear the tires spin out. He went zooming down the street.”
Andrew Huber was unloading cases of soda from his car on Mechanic Street when he heard the collision at the British Chip Shop.
“I heard a crunch, but the crunch kept crunching,” Huber said. “Then I heard metal.
“I was under the impression that somebody was dead,” he said.
Huber got to Kings Highway in time to catch a glimpse of the driver hurtling down the sidewalk, and began furiously dialing 9-1-1 as he retreated to his own vehicle.
He followed the Charger as the driver wove down side streets in Haddonfield and Haddon Township, trailing acrid smoke and leaking fluids. Tire streaks marked its path in parallel lines along Euclid, Westmont, Mount Vernon, and Avondale Avenues.
By the time the driver was crossing Crystal Lake Avenue, the car had had enough, Huber said. When it finally quit, on Hood Avenue in Audubon, he said the driver abandoned it, and attempted to force his way into homes along the residential street.
‘I need a hostage’
Jennifer Shepherd said the man had already kicked in her neighbor’s back door on Hood Avenue when her daughter, Spencer, emerged from the house to investigate the commotion.
“I heard a loud voice and cursing, and came outside,” Spencer said. “He looked up, made eye contact, came right up the steps, and grabbed me by the shoulder.”
The man was speaking aloud to himself, but he was almost incoherent, she said.
“He said, ‘I need to get the F— inside. I need a hostage. I’ll shoot you. I’m not actually a bad guy, but I’ll kill you.’”
Jennifer Shepherd screamed to her daughter to run to their neighbor’s house, and Spencer took off.
When she broke free, the man ran off in a different direction: to the cul-de-sac at South Barrett Avenue, where the Venkateswaran family was planning to have birthday cupcakes for dad, Raj.
“We were upstairs working when we heard a bang,” Venkateswaran said. “I thought it was the kids fighting.”
Venkateswaran came downstairs to see a man peeking his head through the front window of their home, which he apparently had shattered with a two-by-four.
“He started yelling, ‘Give me the keys!'” Venkateswaran said.
“We exchanged words.”
The man took off when he yelled for the police, Venkateswaran said, but the incident felt surreal nonetheless.
“I was asking myself, ‘Did this really happen?’” he said.
Just a few doors down, Andre Lopez was hitting golf balls in his garage as his wife was starting dinner. Then he heard someone banging down the kitchen window.
“He tried to get into my neighbor’s house; he was trying cars,” Lopez said; “any car he could get into; any open door he could find.”
Lopez was steeling himself to confront the stranger with his pitching wedge when Audubon police burst into the rear yard and brought the suspect into custody.
“Thank God we’re all safe here,” Lopez said. “Audubon’s finest came, they did their job, and they were awesome tonight.”
By 6:30, the wreck of the Charger was being loaded onto a flatbed tow truck on Hood Avenue, where police had sealed off the roadway. During the confusion, another two-vehicle crash occurred just up the street, near the intersection of East Graisbury Avenue and Hopkins Road.
Within an hour, Haddonfield Police Chief Jason Cutler reported that an unidentified person had been arrested in connection with the events of the evening, and that criminal and motor vehicle charges are pending.
No injuries were reported.
In the wake of the incident, Downtown Haddonfield Executive Director Michael Marciante checked in on business owners.
The borough is planning for a full calendar of holiday events, including its traditional candlelight sidewalk shopping hours, which begin next Friday.
“I’m happy nobody’s hurt,” Marciante said.
This is a developing story. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.