A Selden man who lured three Hispanic day workers to isolated sites with promises of jobs attacked two of the men and attempted to run down the third with his vehicle, prosecutors said during the defendant’s arraignment in Central Islip on Monday.
Christopher Cella, 19, is charged with second-degree reckless endangerment as a hate crime, two counts of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime and other counts. Cella was arraigned in Suffolk County First District Court and released on supervised release with GPS monitoring.
“The defendant allegedly targeted these victims because of their ethnicity and lured them in under false pretenses before carrying out these violent attacks,” Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said. “This is a highly disturbing case, and my office’s Hate Crimes Task Force will work in collaboration with the SCPD Hate Crimes Unit to investigate and prosecute these incidents thoroughly.”
Cella’s attorney, Stephen Kesner of the Legal Aid Society, declined to comment.
Cella’s father, also Christopher Cella, attended Monday’s hearing and said afterward that his son is struggling with mental health issues, not racial animus. He said his son recently told his family that he has anger management issues and other mental health problems.
“I think he has psychological issues,” the senior Cella said.
According to authorities and court documents, Cella drove near the La Placita deli in Farmingville on Friday morning, and picked up a 52-year-old Holbrook resident. Police said Cella drove the man to an abandoned construction site on Blue Point Road in Farmingville, grabbed him by the shirt and choked him. The man attempted to flee, but Cella would not let him out of the car.
Cella then returned home, got a different vehicle and drove to a 7-Eleven in Farmingville, where he picked up a 60-year-old Medford resident and offered him work. Cella drove the man to the Blue Ridge Condominium Complex in Medford, where he attacked the victim, who was able to escape, police said.
Cella returned to the 7-Eleven on Saturday morning and picked up a third victim, a 47-year-old Brentwood resident. The man became suspicious of Cella but Cella refused to let him out of the car, according to prosecutors and court papers. The victim threw the car into park and was able to escape, but Cella tried to hit him with the vehicle, authorities said, and threw a rock at him.
Prosecutors asked for GPS monitoring because they said Cella, who was arrested in Brooklyn on Aug. 9 on weapons charges, is a flight risk. Cella is due back in court on Friday.