CAMDEN - A city man accused of taking part in a carjacking and later escaping police custody in a hospital has been ordered to remain in jail pending trial.
Ronnie Watkins, 27, and an accomplice allegedly abducted a tow-truck driver at gunpoint, then fled when the victim jumped from his vehicle on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a prosecutor alleged at a Jan. 13 court hearing.
Watkins allegedly eluded police a second time after being taken to Cooper University Hospital following his arrest, Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Nagel said at the detention hearing.
The prosecutor claimed Watkins ran down a stairway from the hospital’s eighth floor to its basement, before being arrested on a nearby street after a struggle that injured a police officer.
“This defendant poses an extremely serious danger to the community,” Nagel told Superior Court Judge Michele Fox.
Watkins’ public defender, Maura Hallisey, argued for his release on home detention, noting Watkins’ ties to the community and his assertion of innocence.
“He does deny these charges,” she said.
Watkins also contends he does not know his alleged accomplice in the kidnapping, Naquan Hodge of Woodlynne.
Hodge has implicated Watkins in the crime, according to the prosecutor’s office.
In ordering Watkins to stay in Camden County Jail, Fox described the weight of the evidence against him as “very strong.”
She also called the case “particularly disturbing,” noting the victim had been lured by his alleged kidnappers.
According to Nagel, the carjacking occurred on Dec. 8 when a Camden towing service dispatched a driver to buy a 2020 Kia from a customer.
The driver expected to pick up the Kia at a United Gas station at River Road and 36th Street in Pennsauken, but instead was approached around 7:30 p.m. by two men who said they would take him to the vehicle, the prosecutor said.
But after entering the tow truck’s cab, Watkins pointed a gun at the driver and Hodge took $168, a phone and a driver’s license from the victim’s pockets, Nagel alleged.
The men directed the victim to take them to Philadelphia, where they planned to cash a check carried by the driver, the prosecutor continued.
But the driver jumped from the truck on the bridge and ran back to the toll plaza to alert a toll taker. He was treated at a city hospital for injuries suffered in his leap to freedom.
The two suspects also ran from the truck, which was involved in a collision on the bridge, Nagel said. Hodge was arrested nearby, allegedly in possession of the driver’s belongings, the prosecutor added.
Hodge was charged with kidnapping, burglary, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Hallisey noted Watkins was not found at the scene. “The alleged stolen goods were only recovered on Mr. Hodge’s person,” she added.
Watkins initially was charged with carjacking, kidnapping, theft, burglary and other offenses in connection with the alleged abduction.
He faced additional charges of escape and resisting arrest after his alleged flight from the hospital on the afternoon of Jan. 1.
A probable cause statement says Watkins, then under arrest for the alleged carjacking, was taken to the hospital to be treated “for ingesting narcotics.”
Watkins, who had been handcuffed to a hospital bed, initially asked to be released to use a bathroom, Nagel alleged. He then allegedly said he wanted to see a nurse, balked at being handcuffed and fled through the hospital in his escape attempt, the prosecutor alleged.
Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other beats for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.
Support local journalism with a subscription.
This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Ronnie Watkins is innocent of carjacking, other charges, defender says