Two out of three alleged perpetrators of a hate-driven assault against an Asian mother and son in Corona earlier this month have been arrested and arraigned, the authorities said last week.
Elijah Fernandez, 21, of Ozone Park, and Natalie Plaza, 18, of Richmond Hill are each charged with assault in the third degree as a hate crime and aggravated harassment in the second degree, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced last Wednesday.
Fernandez also was hit with five more counts: assault in the third degree as a hate crime, menacing in the second degree as a hate crime, assault in the third degree, aggravated harassment in the second degree and harassment in the second degree.
Despite the variation in their charges, both defendants face up to four years in prison if convicted, according to the DA’s Office. Since the charges all stem from a single incident, prosecutors would expect the court to set concurrent sentences, rather than consecutive ones, a spokesperson for the office explained.
The attack against the mother and son, as well as a Good Samaritan, took place at about 2:30 p.m. March 3 on Junction Boulevard near Roosevelt Avenue, when an SUV containing the defendants and one other person was passing alongside the victims, according to the DA’s Office. Plaza, who was in the front passenger seat, allegedly yelled out “Ugly Asian!” and threw water onto the woman, 44-year-old Cecille Martinez Lai, who is from the Philippines.
The victims had been in a car that stopped to let them out at the subway station, according to CBS News, which interviewed Lai. The driver of the SUV, a white Acura, honked at them to hurry up and the people in the vehicle started yelling anti-Asian slurs, she told the outlet.
Her son, Kyle, 24, gave them the middle finger, and that’s when three people got out of the vehicle, she said.
Plaza grabbed Lai, pulled her to the ground and punched and kicked her, according to the DA’s Office. A 44-year-old male bystander tried to pull Plaza off the victim and then was attacked by Fernandez and one other male, who has not yet been arrested, the office said — both punched the Good Samaritan in the face. When Lai’s son tried to help his mother, he too was punched, allegedly by Fernandez.
All three then got back into the SUV, with Fernandez driving. “Before leaving the scene, the SUV swerved and came within inches of the female victim,” the DA’s Office said.
The mother and son were taken to an unidentified area hospital for treatment of injuries to their head, police said.
Katz said there is no place for such a crime in Queens.
“In the most diverse county in the country, perhaps the most diverse place in the world, there is zero tolerance for hate,” she said in a prepared statement. “We will not allow our values to be threatened with violence.”
Fernandez and Plaza both were released on bail, according to city records.
Police did not immediately respond when asked if they know who the third person involved in the assault is.
Queens elected officials also decried the attack, and last Friday several of them joined community leaders and advocates at a Corona Plaza rally to show solidarity with the victims and stand up against hate. “Speakers and attendees expressed solidarity and commended the resilience of the Asian American community as they continue to live through the crisis of anti-Asian hate, which has persisted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” a press release on the rally said.
“I don’t understand why we have hate for each other,” Lai said in a prepared statement in the release. “We have to do more to educate our communities, to teach them to respect different races, different genders, different colors — it’s all about educating people about these hate crimes and teaching people to spread love instead of hate.”
“The horrific attack Cecille and her son Kyle experienced is a symptom of many failures in our society, which too often paints Asian Americans as outsiders in our own country,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation. “We are hurting. We need mental health care, resources, and community-based safety measures. Most of all, we need our neighbors from all backgrounds to join us in bringing an end to anti-Asian hate. The Asian American Federation stands with the Lai family, and we are here to offer all victims of anti-Asian hate support and resources.”
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