By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Two men have been charged in a pair of armed carjackings, accused of shooting two people while trying to steal their vehicles last month.

Marcus Whatley, 22, and Javon Readus, 23, both face two counts of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking, two counts of aggravated battery, and one count of criminal trespass to a vehicle. In addition, Readus is charged with two counts of resisting police.

Cook County prosecutors say, around 8 p.m. on Nov. 25, a man and his sister were in his 2017 Dodge Charger after getting groceries at a Pete’s Fresh Market store, when Readus and Whatley approached them with guns drawn, and tried to get in the car.

The driver is a concealed carry license holder, and fired his own weapon at Readus and Whatley in self-defense, but failed to hit them, prosecutors said. The pair shot back, firing 17 shots, wounding him twice in the right forearm, and grazing the top of his head.

Prosecutors said the victim required surgery, including 13 staples to his head, and is still recovering at the hospital.

Five days after that attempted carjacking, prosecutors said a couple and their two children, ages 3 and 8, were backing into their garage, when Readus and Whatley pulled up through the alley in a dark-colored sedan and boxed them in.

Readus and Whatley got out of their car, both holding semiautomatic handguns with red laser sights, and wearing dark sweatshirts and surgical masks, according to prosecutors. Whatley pressed the muzzle of his gun to the driver’s side window, and demanded the family’s lexus.

Whatley then pulled on the door handle, but it was locked, and the driver refused to give up the car, and instead put the Lexus in drive and tried to flee the scene. Prosecutors said Readus and Whatley both started shooting, firing more than 27 shots at the driver, striking him in the right leg. The driver’s wife and two children were not wounded.

The defendants then got back in their car and fled the scene.

The driver who was shot was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released.

Prosecutors said Readus and Whatley parked a stolen 2019 Dodge Charger outside a downtown store on Thursday, and after a police license plate scanner identified it as a stolen vehicle, officers contacted store security, and arrested the pair at the scene.

Victims from both carjackings identified them as their attackers.

Whatley and Readus were ordered held without bail at a bond hearing Saturday afternoon.

The charges in this case come amid a surge in carjackings in Chicago this year.  Carjackings are up 127% in 2020 compared to the same time period last year, with 532 carjackings in 2019 and 1,209 in 2020.

The statistical surge is punctuated by the tragic death of retired Chicago Fire Department Lt. Dwain Williams, who was shot and killed in an attempted carjacking Thursday in Morgan Park.

“I think it’s just going to keep getting worse,” State Rep. Jaime M Andrade Jr. (D-Chicago) told CBS 2 on Friday. “I think it’s going to get worse if there’s no accountability.”

He has been woking for years to try to strengthen penalties for carjackers and was able to pass a 2018 bill that made it easier for investigators to show that a car was stolen. But he argues that prosecutors and judges often go easy on the offenders.

“I’m just pleading and asking them to prosecute the possession of stolen motor vehicles to the fullest exten of the law,” he said.

Chicago police have complained about prosecution, too, and they are acknowledging the uptick. When CBS 2 checked in earlier this year, CPD said they were going to reconvene the carjacking task force and in some cases push for federal charges when they can. In February CBS 2 was told the carjacking task force would add additional officers, covert officers and dedicated state and federal prosecutors. CPD did not get back to CBS 2 Friday when we asked if that has actually been happening.

But why the surge in carjackings?

“It’s almost like a robbery on steroids,” said Professor Dave Olson of Loyola’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Olson said, in part, carjacking is often a money-making option during an uncertain time, but pandemic behavior changes may also be playing a role.

“It’s more difficult to commit other crimes like burglaries because people are home more now during the pandemic. If it’s more difficult to commit that’s because there aren’t as many people out,” he said.

A Carjacking Crisis In Chicago

Carjackings have been plaguing the entire city in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, a 19-year-old man was charged with carjacking a driver in the parking lot of a Jewel-Osco store in Wicker Park last week, just five days after he was released on previous misdemeanor charges. Chicago Police said Quitone Nash, of Markham, was arrested early Friday morning, after officers spotted him at a gas station in Englewood, driving the same vehicle that had been stolen in the carjacking in Wicker Park just hours earlier in the parking lot of a Jewel-Osco store at the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Paulina Street.

That incident was not believed to be related to other recent carjackings in Lakeview and Bucktown, or another carjacking one day later a couple blocks away in Wicker Park.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, a 38-year-old man was stopped at a red light in his black 2019 Audi A5 sedan at the six-way intersection of Damen, Milwaukee, and North avenues, when two men stopped in front of him, got out of their vehicle, and demanded his car at gunpoint. He got out and let them have the car, police said.

The suspects fled northwest on Milwaukee Avenue in the victims’ car, followed by a Jeep, police said.

In that incident, police said the driver was left unharmed. We cannot say the same for other victims of recent carjackings in Chicago.

Earlier last week, CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar met Luv Randhawa, who was the victim of an attempted carjacking right in the middle of the Loop.

“I am injured from my leg and my chest,” Randhawa said. “They put the gun on my chest and they were hitting it. There were four or five people.”

Randhawa, from Las Vegas, was in the driver’s seat of his car when he parked with his buddy and popped into a Starbucks for a cup of coffee near State and Lake streets on Monday evening. Within just seconds, a group of teens went in with guns and attacked the man.

“They were trying to take this car,” Randhawa said Monday. “This car is rental.”

Randhawa fought off a group of teens who not only tried taking his rental car, but also his life.

“He pulled the trigger out. Something pops out,” Randhawa said. “The bullet pops out, so the gun got latched.”

The suspects in that case were caught a short time later.

Also last week, a red four-door Audi was stolen at gunpoint in the 1400 block of West Wolfram Street. It is believed to be part of a series of carjackings in Lakeview and Bucktown.

While the woman in the Lakeview incident was safe, there was another attempted in a carjacking hours later early Tuesday morning in Bucktown. And it happened that the suspects pulled up in a red Audi just like the one that was stolen on Wolfram Street.

Two men jumped out of the Audi and tried to steal a Porsche as Tina Ariola and daughter pulled into their driveway. When Tina’s husband, Dave, walked out, they shot him and jumped back in the same red Audi. CBS 2’s Jermont Terry talked with the victims of that carjacking on Wednesday.

“I was trying to stay very calm,” Tina Ariola said. “I was very angry, but I was going to comply.”

In surveillance video, you can hear Tina’s daughter tell her mom to follow the gunman’s demands. The gunman took their cellphones, wallet, and car keys. The thief then reverses, thinking the carjacking is a done deal. But those earlier screams forced Dave Ariola to come running out to the alley.

“I was literally sitting on the couch in my underwear and T-shirt,” Dave Ariola said. “I never made it over the fence. I was inside the yard.”

The robber turned around and shot Dave instantly. The bullet entered his wrist and exited his elbow.

After shooting Dave, the crooks left everything behind – including the car. The Chicago Police were still searching for the criminal duo as of Thursday night.

Add all these incidents to the other carjackings the weekend before Thanksgiving, many of them on the North or Near Northwest sides. In one of them – also in the Wicker Park-Bucktown area – a woman reversed and got out of the way of the gunmen in the nick of time.

The CBS 2 Investigators have been tracking the alarming trend.

In 2019, Chicago saw a total of 516 carjackings, and with December still ahead of us, 2020 as of late November had already seen 1,145 cases and growing. That amounts to a spike of 120%.

McDermott said the CPD’s citywide carjacking task force is increasing its abilities and is aware of where carjackings are occurring. Resources are being deployed to the appropriate areas, he said.

Meanwhile, as McDermott took questions at a news conference, CBS 2’s Terry also noted that concern about crime is mounting in the Beverly and Morgan Park areas. Just Wednesday, a woman was robbed in her garage at 97th Street and Winchester Avenue.

“We understand the fears that they’re going through. We all have people that we know that live in this community that shouldn’t have to live in fear, and that the men and women of this department are working their hardest to stop the violence that’s going on right now and to try to make this community and the city safe for everybody,” McDermott said.

In addition to the spike in carjackings, Cook County – Chicago and the suburbs combined – has seen more than 900 murders and could top a 25-year high for homicides by year’s end, the county Medical Examiner’s office said this week. In addition, 70 Chicago Police officers have been shot at – an increase of 400 percent.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff