An MTA police officer from Central Islip was stabbed in the eye by a knife-wielding assailant but managed to get off four shots -- killing his attacker -- at the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica train station Wednesday morning.
Officer John Barnett, 45, a 13-year veteran of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority police force, was stabbed in the left eye as he struggled with the man, identified by MTA officials as Edgar Owens, of the Bronx.
MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said Owens, 46, came at Barnett without warning at 9:40 a.m., and the officer responded properly.
"He did exactly what we expect of all of our police officers," Lhota said. "In a split second, he confronted a violent person, an individual who posed a threat directly to him and everyone around the officer. He took action without regard to his safety. I am absolutely in awe of his bravery."
His sister, Belinda Barnett-Andrea, said she spoke to her brother shortly before he went into the operating room. "I'm going to pray for myself going in," she said her brother, who has a 12-year-old son, told her, "and I'm going to pray for myself going out" of surgery.
Barnett was doing well Wednesday night after coming out of 41/2 hours of surgery but he may still lose that eyeball, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said. Surgeons found the knife had gone in just below his left eyelid and fractured his eye socket, he said.
"It just about severed the eyeball," Lisberg said. "The outlook for his vision in that eye is very poor, but we don't know for sure. In 48 to 72 hours, we will know whether he gets to keep the eyeball.
"The only bit of good news in this is the surgeons said that if the knife had gone in at any other angle, it would have gone into his brain."
Barnett-Andrea, of St. Albans, Queens, said her brother did what he had to do.
"If he had to do it all over again, I think he would," she said. "He's a fighter. He doesn't give up easily. But he's a teddy bear on the inside. I'm sure whatever actions he took, he had to take."
Barnett, wearing his uniform, was on patrol along Sutphin Boulevard at the Long Island Rail Road station taxi booth when Owens walked out of the doors at street level carrying a "gravity knife" in his right hand, Lhota said. Owens walked up to Barnett and stabbed the officer in the eye, Lhota said.
The blade of a gravity knife automatically falls out of its handle when the knife is held at a certain angle, MTA officials said.
After being stabbed, Barnett stepped back and pulled out his service weapon. He warned Owens repeatedly to drop his knife, but Owens continued to approach, Lhota said.
Barnett fired four times and three shots struck Owens -- in the jaw, the chest and the lip, Lhota said. Owens was declared dead a short time later at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
"It appeared Officer Barnett had already been stabbed when he was moving back and discharged his weapon," said Michael Coan, chief of the MTA police department.
Lhota and Coan praised Barnett's actions. "The training that he received all came out," Coan said.
Barnett, a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, graduated from SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lhota said. He also spent a year with the NYPD before joining the MTA police force.
Lhota said Barnett had never fired his weapon in the line of duty with MTA.
The MTA was looking into Owens' history and said he had been treated as an emotionally disturbed person during past arrests.
He had a long history of assaulting and threatening police officers, Lhota said.
Owens' family could not be reached for comment, but Lisberg said they were at the hospital with him.
Wednesday, investigators found further evidence of his mental state after searching his clothes.
Lisberg said: "They said in his pocket they found a slip indicating he'd been in an appointment at a mental health clinic in the Bronx, like a community outpatient clinic, on June 27."
In 2006, Owens walked into the 26th Precinct in Harlem and punched an officer in the face, Lhota said. The next year, he walked into the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, Queens, and told officers he wanted to be arrested and would punch a cop in the face if that's what it took. Lhota didn't elaborate on the incidents.
Surveillance video at the station and nearby businesses recorded the attack, and officials said they are studying those images as the investigation continues.
With Gary Dymski and Ellen Yan