NBC 4 New York/Newsday
Joel Grassman (inset top) is accused of stealing an MTA truck and going on a rampage, taking down wires and cables in a Long Island neighborhood that knocked out power to over 6,000.
A veteran New York City transit worker who had allegedly stolen a truck with a large crane on it went on a rampage through a Long Island neighborhood early Tuesday, mowing down power lines, light poles and trees, knocking out electricity to thousands of customers, authorities said.
The driver fled the truck after he tore down Meacham Avenue near Dutch Broadway in his Elmont neighborhood, toppling lines and sending tangled cables strewn across yards and over cars.
Police caught up with the driver, identified as 51-year-old Joel Grasman, a short time later and arrested him; he's accused of loading up the MTA truck with stolen welding equipment and taking off.
The MTA said Grasman is a light maintainer at its Jamaica 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.
Authorities say Grasman raised the truck's boom at some point after the theft, though it's unclear if he did it on purpose. That's what caused the wreckage in Elmont.
In the aftermath, Chopper 4 hovered over scores of downed power lines, some lying atop cars and others coiled in thick piles on the street.
Pieces of wires hung from the boom of the truck that caused the damage, and frayed copper lines dangled perilously near homes and driveways.
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 more than 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.
"It's unnecessary. I don't know why someone would do something like that."
Nicholas Dossous, who moved next door to Grasman four months ago, was also in the dark.
"Sometimes you don't really know your neighbor and who you're living next to," he said.
After his arraignment Tuesday, Grasman only mumbled the matter was some kind of "mistake."
Authorities shut down several intersections to ensure residents stayed away from the downed lines.
Most LIPA customers had their power restored by Tuesday afternoon.