Man Charged with Hate Crimes After Dragging Sikh Victim with Car in Queens Murder Attempt
In the crowded city, fights over driving are commonplace — but this is an extreme instance. 55-year-old Joseph Caleca of Setauket in Suffolk County has been arrested and charged with felony assault, hate crimes, and attempted murder after allegedly dragging 29-year-old construction entrepreneur Sandeep Singh at least 30 feet after hitting him with his truck in July. Eye-witnesses to the incident are positive Singh’s ethnicity was a key factor in the attack, saying Caleca shouted racial slurs about Bin Laden and terrorism. If Caleca is convicted, he could be facing a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. This incident raises a good legal question: if a charge is classified as a hate crime, does anything change?
Victim Claims He Was Called “Bin Laden”
It was July 30, near the intersection of 101st Ave. and 99th St. in the Ozone Park area of Queens, when the altercation reportedly broke out. Joseph Caleca was behind the wheel of his white pickup truck, while Singh was nearby in his own vehicle. Caleca allegedly became agitated by the position of Singh’s car, which he felt was blocking the street, and got out of his truck to confront Singh. But instead of dissipating after a quick squabble (or peaceful resolution), the confrontation spiraled out of control.
Eye-witnesses present at the time of the incident say that Caleca began hurling racial insults at Singh, reportedly calling him a “terrorist.” Singh later told police Caleca yelled, “Bin Laden, go back to your country!”
According to Singh’s wife, Prabhurpreet Kaur, “A man in a truck had called him a terrorist and told him to go back to his country. When Sandeep protested, the man ran him over, dragged him 30 feet under the truck and left him to die.”
Singh was rushed to Jamaica Hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his back and abdominal area. Fortunately, Singh survived his ordeal and is now recuperating from his wounds, with brother-in-law Gurdarshan Janjua confirming, “He’s walking. His injuries and his wounds are all healing.”
Prior to Caleca’s arrest, New York’s Sikh community banded together to call for swift action against racial attacks. “I urge the NYPD and FBI to investigate the attack on my husband as a hate crime,” said Kaur.
Hate Crimes Can Lead to Longer Prison Sentences
It seems Kaur’s wish been granted, as Caleca is now being charged with leaving the scene of an accident (an offense usually associated with hit-and-runs), felony assault, and attempted murder — as hate crimes.
Hate crimes are grouped and investigated separately from other crimes which do not appear fueled by prejudice. While this instance happens to deal with matters of race and religion (Sikhism is a religion, but Caleca’s alleged “Bin Laden” response to Singh’s turban and skin color suggests racial discrimination), hate crimes can involve other factors as well. In addition to ethnicity and religion, these crimes can target groups or individuals belonging to or exhibiting a given gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or country of origin.
Without question, crimes of this nature are taken very seriously in New York. To quote Article 485, “Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens. They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society.” The statute goes on to state:
Current law does not adequately recognize the harm to public order and individual safety that hate crimes cause. Therefore, our laws must be strengthened to provide clear recognition of the gravity of hate crimes and the compelling importance of preventing their recurrence. Accordingly, the legislature finds and declares that hate crimes should be prosecuted and punished with appropriate severity.
If an incident is categorized (and convicted) as a hate crime, it has the potential to be sentenced more harshly than a “normal” offense would have been. For example, under S 485.10, “When a person is convicted of a hate crime… and the specified offense is a misdemeanor or a class C, D or E felony, the hate crime shall be deemed to be one category higher than the specified offense the defendant committed, or one category higher than the offense level applicable to the defendant’s conviction for an attempt… to commit a specified offense.”
In other words, an A misdemeanor would become an E felony, an E felony would become a D felony, and so forth. This means that hate crimes can be penalized with years of extra prison time if the defendant is convicted.
If you have been charged with a hate crime, assault, or attempted murder in the New York City area, it is extremely important that you speak to an experienced attorney as soon as you possibly can. To set up a completely confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Queens criminal defense lawyer Victor Knapp, Esq, right away at (718) 263-9000, or contact us online.