Jeff Pearlman

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Joseph Lozito

#173
In the winter of 2011, a deranged psychopath killed four people in New York City. Then, on a subway one February morning, he picked the wrong man to make No. 5 ... POSTED September 24, 2014

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Before you dig into what must be considered the most gripping Q&A in the 3 1/2-year history of the Quaz, take a moment to do a Google Image search for Joseph Lozito. Hell, I’ll do it for you—just click here.

Look at the pictures. Really look at them. Examine the scars. The cuts. The bruises. The dried blood. Now close your eyes and try to picture what Lozito went through on Feb. 12, 2011 when—purely by bad luck and awful timing—he found himself on a subway, standing alongside a maniacal killer named Maksim Gelman, this knife (pictures below) being plunged repeatedly into his body …

sharpEither because you followed the story or because, well, you’re reading this Quaz, you know Lozito survived. But do you know his saga? The bravery of confronting a killer. The helplessness of a countdown to death. The frustration of allegedly not having two nearby police officers come to your aid. The anger over a court refusing to hear your case.

Because of Joe Lozito, a killer no longer walks the streets of New York.

Because of Joe Lozito, you are reading Quaz No. 173.

Joe’s new book, The New York Subway Hero: My Battle With Evil, can be ordered here. You can also follow him on Twitter here, and Facebook here.

Joe Lozito, a hero’s welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Joe, I’m gonna start this one the way it should be started. On Feb. 12, 2011, you were on the 3 train, minding your own business. Then … what?

JOSEPH LOZITO: When I boarded the train, two uniformed police officers boarded with me and went straight in to where the motorman operates the train. Their radios were going crazy and, while I couldn’t understand what exactly what was going on, they were there for a reason. Being that my commute originated from Philadelphia that morning, I hadn’t seen a New York paper. As the commute started, a man walked up to the motorman’s door, banged on it and yelled, “Let me in!”  The male officer behind the door answered, “Who are you?” Unaware that the actual police were behind the door, the man said, “I’m the police.”  Looking through the window at the man they were there to apprehend, the male officer replied, “You’re not the police” and left it at that. As the man walked away, another man who had been standing next to me raced to the same door and was alternately tapping on the window and waving the police out. Again, no action was taken on the part of the officers. As the first man approached the door again, the second man fled back next to me. The first man stopped about three feet from the door, about two feet from me, looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re gonna to die, you’re gonna to die.” He pulled out a cooking knife with an eight-inch blade and proceeded to stab me in the face under my left eye. When he cocked his arm back for another plunge, I shot for his legs to take him down. While I was taking him down, he carved the side and back of my head three times. After taking him down, from the bottom, he was slashing upward while I was trying to catch his hand. His first swing sliced my thumb down to the tendon. His second swing sliced my arm to the tricep muscle. Finally, on his third swing, I was able to catch his wrist, slam his hand down and he dropped the knife.

It was then when I felt a tap on my lower back. It was the male officer from the motormans compartment telling me, “You can get up now—we got him”. That “We got him” is in quotes is not just because it was spoken word.

I got up and sat on a subway seat, blood pouring out of me, watching the male officer struggling to handcuff Gelman after all the dirty work had been done. His partner offered no assistance and, only when another passenger on the train helped, were they able to handcuff Gelman. Several other officers joined in sporadically and at some point I would say there were more than five or six officers in the subway car. Which, by the way, was now stopped in the tunnel between 34th and 42nd streets.

I begged the police the get the train moving. I was told to “hang in there” … that they’d get me out of there. After about 10 minutes of bleeding from my seven wounds, I grabbed an officer by the arm and asked, “Do you have children?” He said he did, and I replied with, “I have two little boys at home. I can’t die on this train.” A few more minutes passed and I grabbed another cop by the wrist and said, “Are you married?” He was. “So am I,” I said, “and my wife needs me. I can’t die on this train.” I was told to stay calm; that help was on the way. I was told not to worry because the paramedics were on their way down to the car, coming through the back of train. The only person to offer any assistance was the passenger who helped handcuff Gelman. He came and applied direct pressure to my deepest wound; a wound so deep you could see my skull in a photograph. After about 20-to-25 minutes of bleeding out and on the verge of death, I heard an officer say, “OK, we’re ready to move.” I shouted, “What about the paramedics?” and the answer was they were waiting at 42nd Street. The truth was they were never on their way to the train.

Feeling myself get weaker and weaker, we pulled into the 42nd Street station and there was a problem getting the doors open. When the paramedics entered, as they were transferring me from the seat to the stretcher, I passed out. When I came to, I overheard one of the officers describe me as “likely.” I had no idea what that meant. Later at the hospital, I asked my sister, who happens to be a New York City police officer, what “likely” meant. The answer: Likely to die. I found out later from one of the officers that when I passed out, I did so with my eyes open and she thought I had died. Once I was carried up to the street, I was greeted by one officer asking the other, “Is that the perp or the vic?”

Upon arriving at Bellevue, I was greeted by an army of medical personnel and as I was being treated, an officer came by my head and showed me the mugshot that was distributed to all cops that day. He asked me, “Is this the guy who did this to you?” I told him it was. He said, “Well then, you’re a hero.” I said, “I’m not a hero. Why am I a hero?” He replied, “That guy killed four people last night”. That was the first I had learned of Maksim Gelman.

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J.P.: I know you’re a big guy, and clearly tough, but how were you able to pin Maksim Gelman? I mean, he’s stabbing you, you’re unarmed. How’d you do it?

J.L.: When a maniac approaches you and says, “You’re gonna die, you’re gonna die,” and then actually tries to make good on the threat, one really only has two choices. He can fight or he he can die. I chose to fight. It was instinct. Pure survival mode. It wasn’t anything I thought out. Hell, he didn’t give me any time to form a game-plan. I’ve explained it as transforming into savage mode. Or, put different, dealing with a savage with savage behavior that one wouldn’t normally use in everyday life. Or ever have a need to.

J.P.: What does it feel like to think you’re dying? In detail. What’s going through your mind? Are you terrified? Peaceful? Neither? Both?

J.L.: In my particular situation, it was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had. I’m sitting in this gigantic public casket, yet I’m the only one dying. I couldn’t get out even if I had the energy to try. And for the longest time, in spite of others being mere feet away, I’d never been more alone. All I wanted to do is kiss my wife and hug my sons, but circumstances made it so I might have never been able to do those things again. I am eternally grateful for the man who saved my life, Alfred Douglas.

J.P.: I know about the physical scars. What are the mental scars? Three years later, do you still have dreams about the attack? Do you have weird reactions to, oh, the subway, or guys who look like Gelman, or the police?

J.L.: While the physical scars are gruesome, the mental scars are the ones I always worry about. I’m fortunate that most nights I do not remember my dreams. As far as the ones I do remember, they generally do not involve the incident, any of the participants or any of the “spectators.” I always have this weird feeling when I get on the subway—which, unfortunately, is twice a day. In terms of the police, while I continue to respect the force as a whole, with every officer I see I can’t help but wonder, “Is this person a good cop, or is he/she another Terrance Howell or Tamara Taylor?” It’s funny that you ask about people who look like Gelman. I’m a huge kickboxing fan and there is a kickboxer who, while he doesn’t look like Gelman, in certain photos if you isolate his eyes, it’s eerily similar.

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J.P.: With everything that happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri, the role of police in society has been a very hot topic. I’m wondering, after experiencing something this traumatic, if you have a new understanding of police hatred? Of animosity toward cops?

J.L.: The amazing part of all of this is that I was basically naive as far as police hatred goes. Meaning, I generally live in my little bubble and worry about myself, my family and my friends. I always figured if you have hatred for the police, you must have done something to feel that way. That changed when I was profiled twice based on my looks. Both incidents were years ago, way before anything happened that put me in the public eye. I guess the white-guy-with-the-shaved-head-and-goatee look is an opportunity for some to try and capitalize on. I realized what it was like to be profiled based on appearance. Even with that, while it bothered in the moment of both occurrences, I eventually let it go. That’s just me. I cannot blame anyone if they’ve been in similar situations and can’t just let it go. We’re all different. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out how looting helps a situation.

J.P.: It’s strange to me. The police aren’t actually saying they ignored you. They’re saying they didn’t have an obligation to help you. Which, well, seems like the No. 1 job of police: Helping. Why do you think, on that day at that moment, the two police officers didn’t assist you? I’m sure you’ve had much time to ponder this one. Were they afraid? Indifferent? Unsure? Is there a chance they just didn’t know what to do?

J.L.: Understand, the NYPD trains recruits to “serve and protect.” That is something I cannot and would not dispute. My sister Angela is a member of the force as were two of my wife’s cousins. I know the training they receive is top notch. This loophole of “not owing a duty to protect” is something that most cops aren’t even aware of. Most of the cops I’ve spoken to think I’m lying. This is something that lawyers for the NYPD, Corporation Counsel use in many cases. Some are actually justified and some, as in my case, are complete and utter bullshit. In my opinion, Officers Howell and Taylor knew exactly what to do that day. They chose not to because they are gutless cowards who chose to protect themselves as opposed to doing their jobs. Their cowardice on the train is matched only by their attorneys’ unwillingness to face me in court.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by your take of Maksim Gelman. Do you think he’s an insane guy who knew not what he was doing? Was he a calculated killer? Do you think there’s genuine evil, and it consumed his brain? Was he just trying to kill for the joy of killing?

J.L.: I think Gelman snapped. I think we have a savage side to us all but most of us are able to control it and use it only when necessary or never at all. My guess would be Maksim had fantasized about killing his step-father numerous times and the proverbial “perfect storm” occurred on February 11, 2011. I think, after that happened, it was open season. He wanted to settle some scores. By the time he attacked me, I would guess his world was starting to come undone and he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory … whatever that would mean in his twisted mind.

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J.P.: Who are you? I know you’re in New York, I know you were on the train, I know you nearly died. But where are you from? What do you do? What’s your life background?

J.L.: I’m just an average guy from New York. I was born in Middle Village and probably had the typical life of a kid. I moved to Long Island as a teenager and grew up loving my Braves, Bills and Islanders. I loved the WWF as a kid and later became a rabid MMA fan after UFC 1. I met a girl, made her my wife. We moved to Philadelphia hoping for a better life (I didn’t intend on that rhyming, by the way). I had two amazing little boys, had a fight on a subway with a deranged idiot who was trying to kill me. I moved back to New York to be closer to my family a little while after that. Like I said, I’m just an average guy. There is nothing remarkable about me. I’m not a hero, I just did what needed to be done that and I’m grateful to still be alive to tell the tale. My two goals in life are to make my wife and children happy and make sure that both my sons become productive members of society.

J.P.: You recently self-published a book, My Battle With Evil. Why? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the message?

J.L.: What you need to know about me is that when I think I’m right and I believe something is worth fighting for, I won’t stop. I pick my battles. Ask my wife. If we’re having a disagreement and I don’t feel like fighting, I’ll just say, “You’re right.” It drives her crazy! The fight I was preparing for in the court was worth fighting for and I was going to hit Corporation Counsel and the NYPD like a freight-train. Since the day we filed our Notice of Claim, I was preparing for my battle against the city. Similar to a fighter who in preparation for a fight plays the bout out in his head over and over, I’d run the scene through my head thousands of times.

Even though my lawyer told me from Day 1 that this would be a tough case to bring to trial, I honestly thought this would be different. Then one day I received word that Judge Margaret A. Chan decided to not allow me my day in court. My family was devastated. This story is a tale that needs to be told for numerous reasons, and regardless of Judge Chan washing the back of Corporation Counsel, I was going to get it out there one way or another. I had already been in discussions with two potential authors but when the decision came down, in my heart I knew I had to write this myself. The project took me a year to complete. I wrote for nine of those twelve months and poured my heart and soul into the project. It was more therapeutic than any help I could have received from a mental health professional.

J.P.: You disarmed a man who killed people. What’s your stance on the death penalty? Does Gelman deserve to die?

J.L.: I have a very strong stance on the death penalty. I have a very strong stance on crime in general. Maksim Gelman deserves the death penalty. Maksim Gelman deserves to suffer. Maksim Gelman needs to feel every ounce of pain that all of his victims and their families have felt and continue to feel to this day. Maksim Gelman does not deserve a serene, peaceful death. He deserves torture. He deserves violence. He deserves angst. The only real way for him to go would be one of two ways and both are from one of my favorite movies, Law Abiding Citizen. At the very least, he deserves to die like Rupert Ames did but more appropriately, he should die like Clarence Darby did. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what I’m talking about, watch it. If you have and find my stance barbaric, put yourself on that subway in my (literally) bloody shoes and then attempt to disagree with me.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOE LOZITO:

• You said to Gelman, “You better hope I die. Because if I don’t, I’m gonna come back and kill you.” That’s the fucking greatest bad-ass line ever. Would it be appropriate if I add “… and you still haven’t done your homework” after “if I don’t” and use it on my kids?: Ha, thank you. Go for it, brother! Just hope they don’t call your bluff. Kids nowadays are fearless.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Fantasy Island, Twitter, Chuck Liddell, The Coney Island Cyclone, James Harden, Olivia Newton John, pea soup, Gaylord Perry, Dominique Dawes, The W Hotel, $2 bills, San Antonio: Ha, OK, here goes … Chuck Liddell and Twitter are at the top. After that, I’d go with former Braves Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, $2 bills, Olivia Newton-John, Fantasy Island, San Antonio and pea soup. I don’t know who James Harden is and want to keep the spirit of the question going so I won’t Google him. Dominique Dawes is either an Olympian or a WNBA player. I’d rank her ahead of Harden because I’ve at least heard of her. If I have no idea about the W Hotel, does that make me a rube? The Cyclone is last strictly because I’m a chicken-shit and petrified of coasters, especially ones that are 500 years old.

• Who wins in a 12-round exhibition boxing match between you and Tiki Barber right now? What’s the outcome?: I have the size and reach advantage on Tiki but he’s way more athletic. If I don’t knock him out inside of two rounds, it could be a long night for me.

• Five reasons one should live in New York City at some point in his/her life?: Why one should live in New York City? Reside in New York City? Oh boy, you are asking the wrong person. The only one I can think of is if you work in New York City. Other than that … yeah, I have nothing.

• Your all-time favorite New York City mayor is …: Mayor Giuliani. The guy is a badass. People around the world know him for his work during the 9.11 crisis but he really cleaned up the city after the mess David Dinkins left for him. I also liked Ed Koch. Bloomberg is a self-serving, pompous ass.

• How’d you meet your wife?: I met my wife at an Islanders game. She’s as rabid a sports fan as any person on the planet.

• One question you would ask Bo Bice were he here right now?: I guess it would have to be, “Who are you, Bo Bice?”

• How many copies does your book need to sell to succeed?: The book is already a success since it’s helped me in the healing process. As far as sales, the short answer would be I need to sell as many copies as it takes for me to never use the CoinStar machine again and the long answer is I’d need to sell enough books for me to retire from my current job and become a full-time writer. I have four or five people I’d really love to write books about one day.

• Would you rather have a new iPhone or an all-expense paid vacation to Seattle?: Oh, man, an all expense paid trip to Seattle! I still proudly use a flip-phone like my man Dana White! I’m a technological caveman! Seattle would rock as I’d spend my time doing all things Alice In Chains.

• Five all-time favorite songs?: This is tough. The first two are easy. Angry Chair and Would? from what I think is the greatest album of all-time, Alice In Chains’ Dirt. Straight Out Of Line by Godsmack would be up there as well, as would For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica. For a fifth song, I’ll go with Hysteria by Def Leppard. But, as Jerry Seinfeld said in The English Patient episode, “I don’t know how official any of these rankings really are.” Did I just set the record for most quotation marks in a single answer?

  • Cd1515

    great guest, Jeff… had never heard his horrible story…. very interesting and well done.

  • blmeanie

    Not sure I’ve heard this before today either. Fascinating and shines a light on one huge problem with how the world looks at police. They should be there to serve and protect. As a law abiding citizen, Mr. Lozito NEEDED them to be the protect and serve police he believed they were and they failed. I’m going to find the book and give it a read.

    Do NYC’s finest still work in NYC?

  • Grant Pepper

    This is fantastic. Thank you for interviewing Joseph Lozito, a national symbol of courage that I feel like too few (including myself, before I read this) have heard of. Your question about the death penalty was very interesting, and Lozito’s answer makes sense from his perspective. What also makes sense is his love for the movie “Law Abiding Citizen,” for many obvious reasons. This was a great piece and a great idea, and it raises many questions about the power of law enforcement and the question of the death penalty.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life