Flushing Meadows Hate Crime Assault Victim Saw Death And The Hand Of Hashem During Attack
“A park is a criminal’s turf,” declared Sam Levy, a proud Kew Gardens Hills resident currently serving as a manager at King David Architecture PC on Main Street, where he brings expertise in designing buildings, homes, factories, schools, complexes, and malls. As previously published in the Queens Jewish Link, Levy was the victim of a brutal gang assault by six assailants in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in February that progressed into a hate crime and has resulted in the arrest of the pack leader, Christopher Martinez, a 16-year-old teenager, who is currently held without bail and faces a maximum incarceration of four years. Sentencing is on May 15, following a unanimous grand jury decision of guilty on all ten counts.
For years, Sam has frequented area shuls, enjoying the local diverse options available to lead a frum lifestyle. Levy, who is part of a culturally diverse family, has a strong Israeli upbringing, an upstanding reputation, a squeaky-clean record, and is known to avoid altercations at any cost. While Levy is finally able to exhale ever so slightly, five attackers remain on the run despite conclusive knowledge on the whereabouts of four of these evildoers, including a chance visual encounter from the victim himself, who recognized a couple of his attackers parading in public. Last Monday afternoon, I sat with Levy in his office as he took me through the horrific events of Sunday, February 19, alongside mental instability issues that will only be quelled once all his attackers are behind bars.
Sam remains traumatized to the point that he fears stepping outside without an escort. While encouraged that a key attacker is incarcerated, Sam acknowledged, “I’m a sitting duck,” who can only feel true relief when all his attackers are treated similarly. Since his driver license revealed his address, Levy cannot successfully recover, knowing that they can appear at his doorstep or open his vehicle at any given moment, intent on inflicting harm.
Sam is no stranger to appreciating the outdoors, often taking a six-and-a-half-hour summertime walk from Queens to the World Trade Center. Sam enjoyed Flushing Meadows nearly daily, prior to the attack, taking casual two-hour strolls to help relieve life’s stress and anxieties. On the night he’ll never forget, the clock approached 8:30, darkness had set in, and Sam was reaching the roundabout just ahead of the landmark Unisphere on the Grand Central Parkway bridge, where he generally turns left by the parking area that offers three trails. At this juncture, six men stationed themselves near a bench that sits in front of a restroom. As Sam approached, Martinez, with a height towering over his contemporaries, ran towards the opposite side of the roundabout, while another covered the other angle, leaving Sam trapped with the only option being taking a left, which was blocked by an ongoing construction project. At first, reminiscent of a group of predators, the men stood idle, waiting for Sam to pass. Feeling something was awry, Sam glanced backwards, catching a glimpse of Martinez’ football player frame charging forward.
“I tried to run,” asserted the 48-year-old. “That’s when he punched me in the back of the head, and I fell down, face first. Almost immediately, kicks ensued from all directions by the six men as they converged simultaneously.” Sam ascertained the men to be no more than 24 years of age and vividly recalled the force of Martinez’ initial contact. While absorbing the beating, Sam received a devastating blow to his eye, causing it to swell terribly. At that moment, Sam recalled watching a bear survival instructional film years earlier, and with its core lesson in mind, was able to instantly put it to practice by continuing to lie, face first, as he was positioned. Next, as would be necessary in a bear attack, Sam protected his skull that had been previously diagnosed as sensitive, using his arms and elbows to absorb the brunt of the attack, covering as much of his head and neck as possible. The survival position, along with the cushion of a very thick hat, jacket, and sweater, left only his ankles, legs, and ribs exposed.
“I am going to die,” thought Sam, 40 seconds into the assault. “Let’s be honest now, I don’t have a strong head; I’m not a guy that can take a beating, and I can easily get brain trauma. So, for me, protecting my head was priority.” Sam noted that the attackers did not engage in any conversation, nor did they give a warning, or demand money to leave him alone. Sam thought, “They’re not stopping, they’re not talking; they’re only hitting me. I have to show retaliation with some show of force.” This idea stemmed from his time spent in Eretz Yisrael, where countrymen are often forced to stand up for themselves. His own son recently completed a stint in the Israel Defense Forces, where citizens are encouraged to exhibit resistance. Sam showed that he was not a pushover by using every ounce of strength to rise to his feet, surprising his attackers, and managed to plant a hit, albeit weakly, on the man who struck his eye. But as Sam was attempting to fight back, the others knocked him back to the gravel, forcing him to reassume the survival position as the assault intensified for an additional minute and ten seconds until someone yelled out twice, “Give us your money,” giving Sam the potential opportunity to end the attack.
By now, Sam was lying down with ribs that had sustained terrible blows that rendered him unable stand, coupled by the repeated kicks to an ankle that had been in recovery, leaving it injured until today. From the asphalt, Sam screamed, “okay,” and proceeded to open a button on his jacket that secured his wallet and exactly $200. Sam mentally prepared and tried to swing the loose bills and wallet as far as he could in the hopes that the men would cease the assault, chase down the cash, and run off. However, he barely had energy to send the items six feet, and as the violence continued, he accepted that this was not the break he envisioned. Then, against his will, the men grabbed from the other jacket pocket his phone, which had not been backed up, along with his car and house keys. Now Sam coped with the distress of his finances at risk if access was gained to his digital banking.
As luck would have it, the apparent group grabbed hold of the unusually expensive wallet that included an exposed window revealing Sam’s name. Upon noticing the Jewish name, Martinez yelled out an anti-Semitic expletive, and alongside his accomplices, doubled down on his violent offensive, seemingly intent to kill. The intensity of the first of the renewed blows sent a piercing pain throughout Sam’s ailing frame, leaving a lifelong mental scar. “You forget about all the other hits after that first strike. It is the moment that broke me down and will be etched in my memory forever,” uttered a teary-eyed Sam. “I knew it wasn’t about money. At this point it all shifted to I’m a Jew. Why am I alive?”
With the incident now a month in the rearview, Sam continues to break down each morning, often in the solitude of his bathroom. “I always believed that every person has some good. In that hit, I saw pure evil.” In his delirious state, Sam surmised, “I have two kids. I must live.” Void of physical power, Sam devised a mental tactic to call out repeatedly that he had suffered a heart attack in the hopes that one of the six men might stop the assault to avoid a murder charge. However, 20 times howling his plea on deaf ears left Sam unable to voice another syllable; he was now convinced that death was their objective. After falling silent, the first attacker began to lose momentum and quietly departed. This was the same criminal who gave the order to Sam to hand over his money. As their stamina drained, the attackers retreated one by one, leaving only Martinez, who persisted for some time to ensure maximum damage, until he ran off, scared of being caught as the sole assailant.
In retrospect, Sam firmly believes Hashem sent an angel that night to protect his fragile skull from direct hits to the front of his head, avoiding potential brain damage.
Fearful of their return, Sam pushed himself to run towards the parking lot, where he found many passersby unwilling to lend their phone to call for help. Reminiscent of a girl who took an astounding two-mile walk after being shot eight times, an inner calling pushed Sam onward, step by step, along a half-hour struggle to his home, where a neighbor came to his aid. “I never thought something would happen to me,” said Sam, who explained that he failed to ever back up his phone and was carrying an array of pertinent confidential identification that could be used against him. Thereafter, Sam sought the assistance of a brother living nearby to reach law enforcement, who only showed once Sam had been checked into NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. Terrified of becoming paralyzed like a cousin of his, Sam used near supernatural strength to rise from the bed and move his body as he felt it begin to stiffen while waiting for a doctor.
It took the courage of veteran news reporter Josh Einiger of ABC Eyewitness News to publicly expose the ambush for NYPD Inspector Chris D. Morello, Deputy Chief of Patrol Borough Queens North, to make an in-person visit hours before Shabbos and then embark on an in-depth investigation. “Model communication” is how Sam described their ongoing friendship that has since evolved into a paramount emotional support resource. Levy, who lacks health insurance, received a full workup, compliments of a local doctor, who informed him that he now suffers from high blood pressure. Throughout life, Sam has shied away from taking even an Advil, but now has been prescribed Xanax, as the anxiety of walking alone and a steady reliance on his automobile have overwhelmed the weary survivor, who is eager to begin psychological therapy, thanks to the benevolence of the Queens District Attorney’s Office. The perpetrators were caught on area surveillance cameras while successfully managing to conduct a number of low-ticket purchases including dinner from Burger King and paraphernalia from a smoke shop.
“There’s no way I’ll ever be the same person,” concluded Sam. “If you think I’m ever going to walk in a park again, you’re crazy. I also learned of a policy in the United States not to keep records of crime in National Parks. Flushing Meadows lacks police and video surveillance but offers thousands of exits including the depths Meadows and Willow Lakes.”
Levy spent Pesach surrounded with the warmth of family, and has heavily relied on the kindness of his two brothers residing in Queens, and the support of his children, one married and one concluding IDF service, as he overcomes the trauma of this life-altering devastation. Sam has always exhibited empathy and understanding to the plight of Holocaust survivors, and now sadly has some of the knowledge of its horrors as he navigates life afraid to outwardly reveal his Jewish heritage.
By Shabsie Saphirstein