A 55-year-old man from Suffolk County is facing hate crime charges for allegedly harassing a Sikh man in Ozone Park last month before intentionally running him over with his car.
Joseph Caleca, 55, of Setauket, LI was awaiting arraignment Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court on charges of second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, first-degree assault as a hate crime and leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it.
“The defendant is accused of an unprovoked attack that allegedly began with the defendant driving by the victim and his friends and yelling out a vile anti-Muslim insult,” Queens District Attorney Brown said in a statement. “After an exchange of words, the defendant allegedly struck the victim intentionally with his vehicle and dragged his body along the street.”
Brown said Caleca allegedly called Sandeep Singh, 29, a Sikh from Richmond Hill, “Osama,” referring to terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden before hitting him with his car.
According to the charges, Singh and three of his friends were standing at the intersection of 101st Avenue and 99th Street near the location of Singh’s construction company just after midnight on July 30 when a pickup truck allegedly driven by Caleca approached the group. Brown said Caleca cursed at the four men, telling them to move, before saying “go back to your country.”
It is additionally alleged that Caleca then parked his truck and got out to confront Singh and his friends. After an exchange of words, according to the charges, Caleca returned to his vehicle and drove head-on into Singh, causing his body to be caught on the vehicle’s undercarriage. Caleca allegedly dragged Singh along the street until his body dislodged from the vehicle, at which point Caleca fled the scene.
EMS and FDNY responded to the incident. Witnesses who were at the scene said Singh suffered extensive injuries and his friends and family members, who arrived immediately, were screaming over the injured Singh, forcing firefighters to push them back until EMS could transport the injured victim.
Singh received treatment for his injuries, which included surgery for internal bleeding and several staples to his mid-section, and is expected to recover.
Caleca faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
The incident angered many in the large Sikh community in South Queens, leading to a rally at the site of the incident on Aug. 5 calling for an end to bias against Sikhs. The rally took place on the second anniversary of a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin at the hands of a white supremacist.
Some Sikhs at that rally even accused the NYPD of not moving fast enough to find the culprit. Police sources said after the Aug. 5 rally that the department’s hate crimes task force was investigating if bias played a role in the attack.
The protesters also noted that Sikhs have been the target of bias crimes since 9/11 because they are often mistaken for Muslims. Sikhs are not Muslims — in fact that two groups have often quarreled over the years in India — but as part of their faith, men wear turbans that some mistake for the same kind worn by Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda members. In fact the clothing is common among people of all faiths in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.