Suspect arrested in utility worker's assault

A Levittown man has been arrested and charged A Levittown man has been arrested and charged with assaulting John Applewhite, a Florida utility worker who was on Long Island helping restore electric grid damaged by superstorm Sandy. Left: Applewhite before the attack. Right: Applewhite after the assault. Photo Credit: Handouts

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A dispute outside a restaurant that left a Florida utility worker hospitalized and a Levittown man under arrest began after the lineman urinated near the suspect's car and not out of frustration over power outages, Nassau County police said Wednesday.

Thomas Libretto, 34, of 24 Ramble Lane, faces a charge of third-degree assault in the attack that happened at about 7:15 p.m. Friday on lineman John Applewhite, 34, of Lakeland, Fla., who was on Long Island working to repair damage from superstorm Sandy.

Interviewed by a Florida TV station in his hospital room Tuesday, Applewhite had said that he didn't know why he was attacked but that he knew people were upset about being without electricity.

However, Insp. Kenneth Lack said at a news conference Wednesday that "The victim unfortunately did not tell us the entire story, and that part of the story [people upset about being without electricity] was not the case."

Lack said that the dispute began when Libretto, having just left the Texas Roadhouse on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, spotted Applewhite urinating in the parking lot. Police said Libretto said something to Applewhite -- and Applewhite started yelling at Libretto.

Applewhite then kicked gravel at Libretto's BMW, Lack said, but did not damage it.

Libretto then exited his car, removed his jacket and advanced toward the lineman, Lack said. The two became embroiled in a physical altercation, Lack said, during which Libretto hit Applewhite, fracturing his nose and bruising his left eye.

In his statement to police, Libretto said Applewhite assaulted him, Lack said. Libretto was charged because he was "the primary physical aggressor."

The inspector said interviewing witnesses was complicated because many of them were linemen who had likely returned to Florida.

Lack said Applewhite was not arrested because police lacked sufficient evidence and because Libretto, who left the scene, never came forward to report the altercation to police. He also said police have not re-interviewed Applewhite since learning what prompted the dispute, because the lineman is in Florida. Applewhite could not be reached for comment, but Tuesday his sister, Mary Anne Geiger, of Lakeland, said she told her brother that police believe his public urination sparked the confrontation.

"He laughed about it and said other guys might have been going to the bathroom, but not him," Geiger said. "He definitely didn't know it had anything to do with him using the bathroom."

She said that the suspect had no right to assault her brother, no matter what set him off.

With Joseph Mallia

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