Neighbors, friends and relatives said Wednesday they are at a loss to explain what caused a Hempstead man to jump into the SUV of a woman parked just down the block from him and demand the vehicle.
Ashburn Neysmith, 52, also known as "Ozzie," was arrested Monday after police said he ran and dove through the passenger window of the SUV while her two children, ages 6 and 12, were in back, ordered her out and told her he was taking it.
Neysmith has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, robbery and endangering the welfare of a child and was in the Nassau County jail Wednesday on $160,000 bail. Police said his attempt to take the car was foiled when the Westbury mother fought him off and bystanders later detained him and rescued her 12-year-old son, whose ankle had become stuck under a wheel while trying to escape.
The chief of the Hempstead Fire Department, where Neysmith has also been an active member for 11 years, said he was mystified at the charges.
"He's a great guy," said Chief Scott Clark. "What I know is that this is not the guy I know," he said.
Clark said Neysmith had kept up with his training and passed the department's annual physical despite a history of battling diabetes. "He's the last person I'd expect to see on TV," said Clark.
A woman who Wednesday visited Neysmith's home and identified herself as his mother-in-law said she is still in shock over the arrest. She described a nonviolent man who was a good husband of 15 years with two daughters, ages 8 and 14.
"Who would leave their house knowing that people know him and try to steal a car?" she said referring to how the incident took place on Neysmith's own block.
Neighbor Laurine Parson, who lives across from Neysmith, said he cuts neighbors' lawns and is community-oriented. She said Neysmith once helped fix her boiler, adding, "Nobody in the block can say he's a bad neighbor."
She said that three months ago, it was Neysmith who came to a neighbor's rescue after she accidentally ran over her foot with a lawn mower. Parson called 911 and said Neysmith helped put pressure on her foot which was bleeding profusely.
"While he helped her, he passed out," Parson said. "They put him in the ambulance but he saved her life."
Family and neighbors said Neysmith suffers from diabetes and speculated whether a medical problem was behind his unusual behavior.
"He has a car in his driveway," said Parson. "They have him on TV like he's some kind of monster and he's not like that."