A station wagon driven by Yosef Lifsh, hit another car and careened onto the sidewalk at 8:21 p.m. Monday, August 19, 1991.
Lifsh was part of a three-car motorcade carrying the now-deceased spiritual leader of the Lubavitcher Hasidic community, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, home from a weekly police-escorted visit family at their Queens gravesites.
The station wagon crushed two black children, 7-year-old cousins Gavin and Angela Cato.
Within minutes, an ambulance from the Hasidic-run Hatzolah ambulance service and two from the city’s Emergency Medical Service arrived.
An angry crowd gathered. Cops radioed for backup, reporting that the station wagon driver and passengers were being assaulted. Officer Nona Capace ordered the Hatzolah ambulance to remove the Hasidic men from the scene.
The children went by separate city ambulances to Kings County Hospital. Gavin Cato was pronounced dead; his cousin survived. A rumor quickly spread that the Hatzolah ambulance crew had ignored the dying black child in favor of treating the Jewish men.
Rioters overturn a police car during the Crown Heights riots on August 21, 1991.(DAILY NEWS)Ignited by the false story, resentments exploded into violence. Groups of young black men threw rocks, bottles and debris at police, residents and homes.
Five blocks away from the crash scene, at 11:20 p.m, 29-year-old Australian scholarYankel Rosenbaum was attacked by a dozen or more black youths. He was stabbed four times. Cops quickly collared Lemrick Nelson, 16, who was identified by Rosenbaum as his attacker.
Rosenbaum was expected to recover. Mayor David Dinkins, New York‘s first black mayor, visited the hospital bed. But by 2:30 Tuesday morning, the Australian was dead because the Kings County staff overlooked one of the knife wounds.
Street violence raged for three days. On Thursday, cops finally restored order. Ultimately, 43 civilians and 152 police officers were injured.
After several trials, Lemrick Nelson was eventually convicted of violating Rosenbaum’s civil rights and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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