NEW YORK - (AP) - Authorities opened a homicide investigationTuesday into a vicious attack on an Ecuadorean immigrant whoseassailants shouted anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs then beat himwith a bat and kicked him.
Jose Sucuzhanay was attacked as he walked arm-in-arm with his38-year-old brother early Sunday in Brooklyn. He had been listed incritical condition after undergoing brain surgery at ElmhurstHospital.
Family members held a news conference at midday Tuesday outsidethe Queens hospital to say he was clinging to life and the familyhad to make an important decision about what to do. A lawenforcement official, however, told The Associated Press thatSucuzhanay had been declared brain dead and was taken off lifesupport Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because theinvestigation is ongoing.
The three assailants were still being sought.
The attack came less than three weeks after seven Long Islandteenagers were charged in the fatal stabbing of another immigrantfrom Ecuador. Prosecutors said the defendants had been hanging outwith friends when someone suggested they go find a Hispanic personto attack.
While it appears both men were not targeted specifically forbeing Ecuadorean, members of the Latin American community say theyfeel vulnerable and must be vigilant about safety.
After the Nov. 8 stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue,Long Island, about two dozen people organized to raise awareness onthe issue, said Jose Cuji, who lives in Blue Point, near Patchogue,and runs his own business laying hardwood floors.
Cuji acknowledges that Ecuadoreans are not specific targetsbecause of their nationality, but suggested some are targetedbecause they look and sound like Hispanic workers. "They weren'tattacked because they're Ecuadoreans. I have Ecuadorean friends whogot attacked because they're Hispanics," he said.
"We came here to work. And most Ecuadoreans are legal. Butpeople confuse them with illegal migrant workers."
Police in New York said Tuesday that the two brothers firstattended a church party and then stopped by a bar. They may havebeen a bit tipsy as they leaned on one another for support walkinghome. Jose wore a tank top, Romel a T-shirt with a jacket tied overhis shoulders despite the cold weather. Arm-in-arm, they paused ata street corner where a red or maroon sport utility vehicle was ata stop light, police said.
Witnesses nearby said they heard the men in the car shoutinganti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs at the men. One attacker jumpedout of the SUV and smashed a beer bottle over Jose Sucuzhanay'shead. As Romel Sucuzhanay ran away, three other men exited thevehicle and joined the assault, police said. One hit JoseSucuzhanay in the head with an aluminum baseball bat while theothers kicked him, police said.
At some point, the brother returned holding a cell phone andtold the men he had called police. The attackers drove off. RomelSucuzhanay escaped uninjured.
Police said there was no robbery or other apparent motive. Theoffice of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and the New YorkPolice Department's Hate Crime Task Force were investigating. Theyurged the public to help identify the attackers.
The NYPD is offering a $22,000 reward for information leading tothe arrest and conviction of the suspects.
Cuji said Ecuadoreans in New York are now forced to takemeasures to protect members of their community - "and to educatepeople."
"Right now, we're trying to help educate the community, to gointo the schools and churches and teach people that we've got torespect life. We've got to educate people to care about life -instead of us going out to try to fight the other guys. Educationis the main thing. We don't want to fight."
Tens of thousands of Ecuadoreans live in the New Yorkmetropolitan area, but estimates vary because some are illegal. Thelargest community is in Patchogue, on Long Island. Othercommunities are in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, Queens'Jackson Heights and in parts of New Jersey close to New York City.
After the recent attacks, "I think Ecuadoreans in New York arebeing hyper-vigilant," said Luis Valenzuela, executive director ofthe Long Island Immigrant Alliance in Amityville.