A Long Island man was charged Tuesday with attempted murder as a hate crime after he allegedly hurled “anti-Muslim” statements at a Sikh man before running the victim over with his car in Queens, the NYPD said.
Joseph Caleca, 55, of Setauket, was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Tuesday afternoon at Queens Criminal Court. He was charged with second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault – both as a hate crime. He is also facing a charge of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, Queens prosecutors said. Caleca, who faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, is due back in court next month.
Police said the 29-year-old victim, Sandeep Singh, reported that Caleca had “made anti-Muslim statements to him” before he allegedly intentionally struck him with a pickup truck on July 30. According to community advocates and prosecutors, Singh was standing with three friends at the corner of 101st Avenue and 99th Street in Ozone Park, Queens, when Caleca approached them in his pickup truck.
“Move your f—ing ass. You’re f—ing slow, you f—ing Osama. Go back to your country,” prosecutors say he shouted at the men.
According to prosecutors, Caleca then pulled over and hopped out of his truck to confront Singh and the other men. After an exchange of words, he allegedly returned to his vehicle and struck Singh head-on, the district attorney’s office. Singh, who was caught in the truck’s undercarriage, was dragged between 30 and 60 feet along the ground, he told reporters. Singh underwent surgery for internal bleeding and needed several staples to close wounds on his body, officials said.
Caleca was arrested Monday night after investigators linked him to the incident, the NYPD said. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Caleca 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.”
“I didn’t run him over because it was racially motivated,” Caleca told investigators, according to court papers. “The last I saw he was conscious … Is the guy okay?”
Singh’s wife, Prabhpreet Kaur, said that what happened to her husband was “an act of hate perpetrated by a man who expressed bigotry before running him over.” She said when her husband hadn’t returned home by 2 a.m., she started to worry and soon after received a call telling her about the crash. “I rushed to grab a taxi to the hospital at 5 a.m. with my infant child,” she said in a statement. “And that’s when I learned the horrors my husband had endured that night.”
In a statement released by the Sikh Coalition, a Manhattan-based nonprofit group, Singh said: “My doctors and the police said it’s a miracle that I’m alive … I was attacked because I am a Sikh and because I look like a Sikh.”