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Hatzolah Volunteer Says He Tried to Aid Child Struck in Accident

August 30, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A member of Chevra Hatzolah, a Jewish ambulance service, claims he helped provide emergency first aid to one of two black children struck by a car last week in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, while two other attendants assisted the Hasidic driver being beaten and robbed by an angry mob.

The volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Jewish Week he drove his car to the scene of the car accident at Utica and President streets on Aug. 19, where he found a “crowd of 150 people running all over the place.”

He said he saw Emergency Medical Service technicians administering CPR to Gavin Cato, 7, as they wheeled him away on a stretcher. Cato’s subsequent death sparked neighborhood riots.

He said he rushed to the other child, Gavin’s cousin, Angela, 7, who was being tended to by another EMS technician. He said he identified himself and asked, “What do you need?”

“An airway,” he said the technician replied.

He radioed the request to two attendants in a nearby Hatzolah ambulance. “But they didn’t hear me, I guess because of all the commotion,” he said. “So I went to my car, got my trauma bag and gave (the technician) my own airway.”

As the EMS technician inserted the breathing tube, the Hatzolah volunteer said he asked, “What else do you need?”

“Get a message to my partner to get a back board here,” the technician responded.

The volunteer said he rose to relay the message when a policeman said he would do it.

“The officer then said, ‘Get your (trauma) bag, get in your car and get out of here.'”

Asked if he believed his life was in danger while he attended to the stricken youngster, the attendant replied: “One hundred percent.”


The first Hatzolah attendants had arrived moments earlier – at 8:22 p.m.

“When we arrived, there were 100 to 150 black people screaming and crying,” said one, who also asked to remain anonymous. “We got out and ran through the crowd calling, ‘Where’s the patient? Where’s the patient?’

“A policewoman and a black man came over and said, ‘Go over there and get that man (driver Yosef Lifsh) out of here. They’re going to kill him.’ “

The attendant said he was told the patient was “being taken care of.”

Black spectators later charged that the Hatzolah ambulance ignored the children.

When the two attendants raced to the driver’s side of the station wagon that had struck the Catos, they found Lifsh seated behind the wheel.

“Three or four black people were trying to get him out and were beating him,” the attendant recalled. “He was in the station wagon — halfway in — and he was bleeding from the face and head. The policewoman said, ‘Please, get this man out of here and get yourself out of here.’

“As we took him out of the station wagon, a real big black man banged him on the head with full force. I don’t know if he had anything in his hand, but it was a big blow.”

The attendant said the other two men in the station wagon also appeared to have been struck, but were not seriously hurt. He said they also left the scene in the Hatzolah ambulance.

In addition to being savagely beaten, the attendant said Lifsh was also “robbed of his wallet and all of his money and of a cellular phone he had in his car.”

Asked if he had been afraid, the attendant said: “Yes, but it didn’t mean anything to me.”

Later, the attendant said he and his partner wondered aloud how they survived unscathed.

“My partner said we should go to the synagogue and recite a blessing for getting out with our lives.”

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