ELMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The New York City Transit Authority electrician charged in a bizarre incident that left a trail of destruction in a Long Island community has issued a confession.
Joel Grasman, 51, was arraigned at First District Court in Hempstead on Wednesday and is being held on $100,000 bail.
As CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported, at first, Grasman said it was all a practical joke and said he was driving the stolen Mack truck to his brother’s in Elmont.
Grasman’s statements came as a surprise to his attorney. But he kept talking.
He issued a written confession, explaining that he broke into one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facilities early Tuesday morning to steal equipment with the intent of selling the goods on the black market to pay off an IRS debt.
In the signed statement, Grasman went through each step, explaining his actions.
“I walked up to the gate and used my key to unlock the padlock. I opened the gate and I walked up to the building in the yard. There is an electrical box on the outside of the building. I disabled the electricity to the yard which causes all the lights to go off and the security camera’s [sted] to shut down,” Grasman wrote in his confession letter.
Authorities said Grasman stole $50,000 worth of generators and welding equipment, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.
When he couldn’t fit the equipment into his car, investigators said he jammed the items into a Mack truck and took off.
Grasman admitted to driving back to a house near E Street in Elmont and unloading the stash before driving off.
“I wanted to get out of there before I attracted any attention and I forgot to put the boom down. I started driving and then I started to see sparks of light in the sky. I continued driving and finally realized that I had left the boom up. I started to swerve all over the road so I would not take down anymore [sted] wires,” Grasman said in his confession. “I saw a lot of wires all tangled up in the boom.”
Authorities said Grasman zig-zagged a treacherous path from E Street across more than 20 blocks, taking down trees and power lines, before police said he abandoned the truck near the Southern State Parkway, Brown reported.
Grasman took responsibility for a whole host of violations, starting with breaking into the MTA yard.
Grasman wrote that he planned to sell the equipment to settle a debt.
“About a week ago, I received a notice in the mail that I owed the IRS $10,000 for my wife not reporting a pension loan,” he said. “I started to panic and thought of a plan to steal some equipment from work and sell it for some quick cash to pay the IRS.”
Grasman ended his confession note, writing “I realize I made a lot of bad decisions tonight and I take full responsibility for my actions. I would like to apologize to everyone that my actions have affected.”
His attorney said Grasman has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since working as an MTA first responder on 9/11 and blames his behavior on medication.
“A lot of the side effects cause him, from what I’ve read, to be delirious and to not remember things and not understand what’s going on,” attorney Peter Menoudakos said. “I’ve asked to have him evaluated because we’re very concerned with his medications and I believe he may have been in a manic depressive mode at the time.”
Menoudakos said Grasman is remorseful.
“This is a man who is 51 years old, has no criminal record, has lived in community whole life, worked at the same job 24 years,” Menoudakos said.
Grasman’s statement made no mention of PTSD or mental health issues.
Grasman’s family left court without comment.
The judge said there is no doubt Nassau County will be seeking to recover damages totaling nearly $3 million.
“Dozens of poles have been damaged, seven or eight traffic lights have been damaged or taken down, a significant amount of wires were torn down. It’s going to take several days to repair,” Nassau County Police Inspector Kenneth Lack said.
Outside court, his family said nothing. But back in Elmont, crews were still cleaning up Wednesday.
“The power lines were on my car from there to here,” said Elmont resident Philip Varghese. ”The pole was on the ground.”
Long Island Power Authority officials said the truck took down distribution and transmission lines, leaving roughly 6,000 customers without power at one point.
Utility crews were still working Wednesday night to get power restored to several homes and businesses.
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