Cops Won't Help You: 7 Things I Saw as a Real Slasher Victim
Maksim Gelman, noted crack addict and man-about-town, flipped out in February of 2011 and stabbed his stepfather to death over an argument about a Lexus. During the next 28 hours he would fatally stab two more people (a woman he had a crush on and her mom), kill a fourth by running him down with a car, and wound several more innocent New Yorkers via random stabbings.
This rampage might have continued, were it not for Gelman's last victim, Joe Lozito, who enthusiastically disagreed with being stabbed. He fought back and wound up teaching his attacker a lesson with the educational power of fists. We reached out to Lozito to learn what it's like to be a real hero instead of just playing one on Xbox, like the rest of us. Here's what he told us:
Everyone Knew a Killer Was on the Loose ... Except for Me
Gelman was a big story all over New York City that morning. The police had launched a massive manhunt, and every commuter in the five boroughs committed his face to memory. It was a jittery, paranoid trip to work for most folks on the streets.
So like a normal subway trip, but they knew one of the crazy people had a knife.
But not me! I was living in Philly and working in New York City at the time. Generally on my commute, I'd start off by going to a local corner store to pick up breakfast and the Philadelphia Daily News. Once I hit Jersey I'd stop at another store and pick up my New York Post for the second leg of my trip. That day I left so early that the Dunkin' Donuts where I buy the Post wasn't open yet.
Had that Dunkin been open, I'd have read that day's New York Post article about Gelman. But I didn't. So when a filthy, shifty-eyed drug addict stumbled into my train I didn't think anything was weird about him. It would've been weirder to find a subway car without a guy like that inside.
He didn't immediately whip out a guitar and start playing "Anaconda," which seemed like a good sign.
The Cops Were Ready for Him, and by "Ready" I Mean "Hiding Behind a Locked Door"
That creepy guy -- who I'd later learn was Gelman -- started banging on the door of the engineer's compartment. I was sitting right by the door. The only thing separating the engineer and myself was a wall. "Let me in," the crazy person said, crazily.
Gelman didn't have a beard then, but nothing accentuates crazy like a big ol' mess of face pubes.
It turned out there were two cops on the other side of the door, lying in wait in case Gelman hopped on this train. I found out later they'd recognized him, but they didn't charge out to stop him. Instead they asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm the police."
"You're not the police."
Real cops always have the word POLICE printed in all caps on their body.
Gelman backed away from the door and started pacing the car. The cops stayed put, because, as the rest of this story will make clear, they weren't very good cops. One of the other passengers on the train recognized Gelman, though, and he started tapping on the engineer's door furiously trying to warn them. They didn't listen, and he stopped tapping once Gelman started making his way back to the front of the train.
Again, I didn't know anything about the stabbings, and I'd never seen this dude's face before. It was all a normal day on the train for me, right up until Gelman stopped in front of my seat, whipped out an eight-inch knife and said, "You're going to die."
The bloody knife made compelling support for that statement.
He stabbed me in the face, right under my left eye, and I started to suspect this was a slightly-worse-than-usual subway ride.
Learning to Fight From TV Really Pays Off (S ... Sort Of)
When a crazy dude stabs you in the face, your options are fight, flight, or just keep getting stabbed in the face. The last one is inadvisable, but the first two are fine choices. There just wasn't much running room available on the train, and also he'd just stabbed me -- I wanted to fight. He brought his arm back to stab again and I charged at him. I've never trained in martial arts or anything, but I've been a big MMA fan since UFC 1. I've watched a lot of fights, and based on all that TV knowledge I figured my best chance would be to dive in for a single leg takedown.
Followed by several commercial breaks' worth of pummeling.
The good news: that was probably the right move, so all those Tony Jaa movies were solid theoretical tactical training for a train-bound knife-fight.
The bad news: stress on the word "theoretical." Nothing beats training, of which I had none, which is why I shot in too high and wound up tackling him by the waist, rather than getting him in the leg. That gave Gelman free rein over the back of my skull, where he stabbed me repeatedly. Fun fact: being stabbed three times in the head isn't as incapacitating as you'd expect, especially when you're so high on adrenaline that the very concept of pain becomes a vague memory.
Thankfully, skulls are fairly knife-resistant.
I outweigh Gelman by a lot, so he went down despite the power of a knife on his side. So we're both on the ground; I'm on top and he's still got his stabbing machine in hand. I tried to grab his right hand (which held the knife) with my left. But I missed, and he sliced me good in the thumb -- right in the webbed part of my hand straight down to the tendon. I tried to catch him a second time and failed, so he slashed me again in my left tricep. My third grab was a charm, though. I caught his hand and slammed it into the ground. He dropped the knife.
Again, the good news: stab wounds are not as instantly fatal as Call of Duty has taught you.
More like Call of Perfidy: B.S. Ops.
The bad news: they are still stab wounds.
The Cops Were Way Too Busy to Save My Life
The next thing I remember is a cop tapping me on the shoulder.
"You can get up now. We got him."
"I'm gonna have to cite you. Bleeding counts as littering."
I felt like "we" was being a little charitable. Ever have one of those "team projects" that you end up carrying all by yourself while your partners play iPhone games? It was sort of like that, only if the project was repeatedly stabbing you in the face and head. The cops didn't come out of their compartment at all until Gelman was on the ground and de-knifed. But after the whole "seven stab wounds" thing, I didn't exactly feel argumentative. There was no pain yet. Just this warm feeling from the blood gushing out of me. It was like standing in the shower, with warm water spraying the top of your head and flowing down the back of your neck.
Like this, but with my very life's blood.
First aid is generally a good idea in any situation where you're bleeding so much it feels like a hot shower. But none of the cops now flooding the train seemed to feel like that was a priority. The train was stopped, somewhere in between two stations. I looked over to Gelman as the cops cuffed him and suddenly filled up with rage, like some sort of hateful balloon. I screamed:
"YOU BETTER HOPE I FUCKING DIE, BECAUSE IF I DON'T I'M COMING BACK TO KILL YOU."
And if he'd died, Gelman's prison cell would be so haunted.
That shouting took the last bits of energy left in my body. I was exhausted, and I worried all that anger might be causing the blood to pump out of my gaping, unattended head wound faster. I had to calm down and center myself, a task that's much more difficult when you're bleeding to death on a stalled subway car than when you're meditating on a beach.
We still weren't moving. The cops told me it was because there were other officers on the tracks so they'd had to cut the power. But, again, none of them came near me to render first aid. The only guy who did was a passenger named Alfred Douglas. He stuck his bare hand on the biggest wound, on my head, and staunched the bleeding. Eventually, somebody gave him napkins. I'm not sure how much those helped, but I am sure Alfred saved my life.
Weirdly, there's no "thanks for staunching the blood flow from my knife wounds" gift basket.
Twenty or so minutes later we got moving again and they brought me to the next stop, where paramedics lifted me onto a stretcher, and that's where I passed out. When I woke up a few moments later, the pain switches in my brain decided to flip on. I'd describe it as having your head doused with gasoline and lit on fire. Like being Ghost Rider, if Ghost Rider still had nerve endings and really didn't want his head on fire.
There Is No Story Big Enough to Get an Insurance Company to Care
While I was in the hospital, I had probably 20 to 25 people tending to me, doing emergency medicine stuff I didn't really understand. Yelling "stat" at each other and having smoldering hidden romances, if TV is to be believed. At one point, a police officer came to the bed, held up a mugshot of Gelman, and asked, "Is this the guy who did this to you?"
"Well, you're a hero."
"I'm not a hero. Why am I a hero?"
"He killed four people last night."
That's when I found out Gelman wasn't just a guy having a particularly stabby day. Believe it or not, I was admitted Saturday morning and released Sunday afternoon. Ain't insurance companies grand? I'd been stabbed with the same knife a madman had used on multiple people. It was still bloody when he came at me. But I found out when I went to my own doctor for a follow-up appointment that they hadn't tested me for hepatitis or HIV or anything. I was just in and out.
"Yeah, this looks like an outpatient procedure." -Insurance Companies
The Police Immediately Took Credit
The day it happened, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly held a press conference about the incident. To hear them tell it, Gelman had been apprehended entirely due to the efforts of those heroic cops in the train with me. The truth didn't come out until the next day, when a writer from the New York Post came to visit me.
Luckily, Gelman had a shitty kitchen.
I told her the same story I just told all of you, and she asked, "Wait, you're the one who stopped him?"
"Well, that's not what the police were saying."
I kept waiting for the police to give more details on what had happened, maybe even tell a little bit of the truth. But they said nothing. There was no mention of my fight with Gelman, no mention of Alfred Douglas saving me -- nothing but, "Look at how awesome our cops are!"
"Oh yeah, we could totally beat up the LAPD."
I didn't want to be called a hero or deal with a media circus, and I was exhausted for days after the attack. So at first I told only my family. But the more I told the story, the more people kept asking, "What the hell were those cops doing?" So I testified at the grand jury hearing, and no one questioned it, because it was the truth. I gave some interviews to news stations telling the whole story, and I figured that'd be it.
Here's Joe, at work, proving he's basically a white-collar Wolverine.
But a few weeks later, after I'd gone back to work, I noticed a guy following me down the street. I didn't know what was up, but I wasn't exactly in the "being followed" mood after that whole vicious stabbing deal. I slowed my pace, turned around and asked, "Can I help you?"
He said: "I'm not looking for trouble. You're the guy from the subway, right? We have to talk. I was on the grand jury you testified before. You're giving too much credit to the police."
Now, my sister's a cop, I don't have any problem with the police, so I disagreed with this guy. But he said: "Forget about how much you like police in general. You're giving too much credit to these two cops."
He wasn't alone in that.
I asked him to prove he was on the grand jury, and he described pictures of my injuries that were released only during the hearing. That was enough for me. He went on to explain: "When you left, they interviewed the male officer. He testified that he'd watched the whole thing, and he was about to come out. 'I started to come out, I opened the door, but I thought Gelman had a gun, so I closed the door and stayed inside.'"
If only police officers carried something that could've evened the score.
That pissed me off. Not only were these "hero" cops getting credit for not helping me, they were being lauded after failing to apprehend a madman on a crowded subway train. A train that was headed for 42nd street. Times Square, just chock full of (relatively) innocent potential victims. If Gelman had gotten off there with a huge fucking knife in the middle of the morning ... I don't like thinking about it.
I decided to sue the NYPD. And I learned the worst lesson of all ...
That Whole "Protect and Serve" Thing Is Just Pillow Talk, Baby
Cracked is going to take over for Mr. Lozito for this one. It's a pretty crazy story and, as trustworthy as he sounds over the phone, we couldn't level these kinds of accusations at a major police department without digging into them a little further. So we tracked down the contact information for Alfred Douglas, the good Samaritan who saved Lozito's life on the train. We shall dub him the Napkin Man.
We talked with two heroes to write this article. And then we ate gyros while we edited.
Napkin Man pointed out that he'd seen Officer Terrance Howell open the door to the engineer's booth right before Gelman drew his knife, and he watched the officer slam that door shut in terror as soon as the knife came out. Officer Howell didn't leave the safety of that compartment until Joe tackled Gelman. His partner continued to hide in the box while Howell tried to cuff the madman, so Douglas helped hold Gelman down.
But the most damning evidence came up after Lozito sued the NYPD. First, two different lawyers tried to bring suits against the city on his behalf, and both of those suits were dropped. So he decided to take the law into his own hands (again) and act as his own lawyer.
His first witness was his fist.
Turns out it is much easier knife-fighting a maniac on a train than it is law-fighting the police in court. Thanks to the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that the police have no constitutional duty to protect people from harm, Lozito's case was dropped again. We just want to stress this: they won on the grounds that the NYPD are under no obligation to protect a man being stabbed to death right in front of them. But the judge who dismissed Lozito's case was sympathetic. She said his version of the events "ring true" and appear "highly credible." And she also at least partially backed up the claims of the random Grand Jury witness who convinced Lozito to sue in the first place:
"Officer Howell's recollection of the events described how he observed something made of metal in Gelman's hands when Gelman approached the motorman's booth. Officer Howell yelled 'gun' and took cover in the motorman's booth."
"I have to stay here in case there's a Chinese fire drill!"
Now, we're not pretending that we'd have leapt up to charge a man we thought had a gun. The bravest thing we'd do in that scenario is soil ourselves in the hopes that we'd become unappealing to predators. But then again, we aren't armed and armored police officers, staking out a subway car for that exact crazy person.
Joe wrote a book about his experiences, and you can buy it here.
Robert Evans's first book A Brief History of Vice is available for pre-order now. It's filled with guides to recreating ancient drug-fueled debauchery!
For more insider perspectives, check out 7 Things You Learn Surviving an Atomic Blast and 7 Things I Learned as an Accomplice to Mass Murder.
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