The lawyer representing a Setauket man accused of running over a man in Queens because of his Sikh faith called the allegations “completely untrue” and insisted the alleged attack was not racially motivated.
Joseph Caleca was held without bail at his arraignment on Tuesday night on charges of attempted murder and assault, both as hate crimes. Caleca, 55, did not enter a plea. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Queens prosecutors accused Caleca of running over 29-year-old Sandeep Singh and leaving the scene moments before a profanity-laced attack, in which he allegedly told Singh: “Move your fucking ass, you’re fucking slow, you fucking Osama, go back to your country.”
The incident occurred shortly after midnight on July 20 while Singh and three of his friends were standing at the intersection of 101st Avenue and 99th Street in Ozone Park and were approached by Caleca’s pick-up truck, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Caleca parked his truck and confronted Singh and his friends. After exchanging words, Caleca allegedly returned to his pick-up and drove head-on into Singh, dragging him along the street until Singh’s body was dislodged. Caleca then fled the scene, prosecutors alleged.
Caleca’s attorney, Murray Richman, disputed prosecutors’ version of events and said video footage that captured the confrontation tells an entirely different story.
“The [district attorney] raised various claims that it was a racially-motivated incident,” Richman told the Press. “It was not racially motivated.”
A “group of guys who came out of somewhere and they were stopping cars, not just my clients car but two other cars,” he claimed, adding that they were also pounding on the hoods of cars.
Richman insisted that Caleca never yelled racially insensitive remarks.
Those allegations are “completely untrue,” he said. “Do people really talk that way?”
An NYPD press release describing the incident said the dispute began when Caleca drove onto 99th street but was unable to continue because he was blocked by Singh, who was exiting a parked car.
Singh was taken to Jamaica Hospital where he underwent surgery for internal bleeding and was treated for severe scrapes to his body, authorities said.
According to the New York Post, Singh released a statement through the hospital in which he said: “I was attacked because I am a Sikh, and because I look like a Sikh. We need to create a world without hate.”