Transit Worker Charged After Stolen Truck Rampage Knocks Out Power to Thousands

Thousands of customers lost power, and authorities say the driver caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage

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    A veteran New York City transit worker who allegedly stole a truck with a large crane on it and went on a rampage through a Long Island neighborhood early Tuesday, mowing down power lines, light poles and trees, has been charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, among other offenses. Sheldon Dutes reports. (Published Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013)

    A veteran New York City transit worker who allegedly stole a truck with a large crane on it and went on a rampage through a Long Island neighborhood early Tuesday, mowing down power lines, light poles and trees, has been charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, among other offenses.

    Joel Grasman, a 51-year-old MTA employee for more than two decades, knocked out power to thousands of customers in Elmont when he allegedly stole the Mack "boom" truck and multiple pieces of welding equipment from the MTA's Jamaica yard and drove several blocks with the boom up.

    At a court appearance Wednesday, Grasman's attorney said his client responded to the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and suffers from a medical condition; Grasman wasn't in a right state of mind, his attorney said.

    Prosecutors said Grasman admitted to the rampage, which he thought was a joke, and said he stole the welding equipment to pay off his IRS debt.

    The boom struck telephone poles, traffic signal lights, utility wires and trees, causing more than $500,000 in damage and forcing authorities to shut down multiple intersections because of the dangerous downed wires. Grasman abandoned the truck, and authorities arrested him a short time later.

    The MTA said Grasman is a light maintainer at the facility where the truck was stolen and has worked for the agency for 21 years. He has been on sick leave with a back problem, and was not authorized to drive the truck, the MTA said.

    In addition to the criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges, he is charged with criminal possession of stolen property and criminal tampering. Information on an attorney for him wasn't immediately available.

    Residents said it looked like a storm had torn through the neighborhood, much like Sandy last year.

    Noel Rivera, who saw the truck barrel down the road as his friend was leaving his house, said sparks flew everywhere and mini explosions erupted in the vehicle's wake. 

    "It was like Fourth of July all over again," said Rivera, whose home lost power along with over 6,000 others. "It blew out every transformer there is. It made a lot of noise ... a lot of banging. And it destroyed everything."

    Neighbor Eli Joseph had just returned from vacation and was putting his bags down when he heard the explosions outside, he said. The truck had yanked the meter and gutters off his home, scattering them across the street.

    "Our cable and electrical wires were ripped off from the side of the house," he said. 

    Most power was restored by Tuesday afternoon.

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