Man in Custody After Stabbings and Burn Attacks in Astoria, Queens

Man in Custody After Stabbings and Burn Attacks in Astoria, Queens

A 23-year-old man slashed a woman in the face on Sunday morning in Queens, the police said, before fatally stabbing a shopkeeper and setting another man on fire several hours later at a nearby liquor store, leading to a wild manhunt that ended with officers shooting the suspect as he threw a chemical at them.


The man, James Patrick Dillon, refused to drop a knife and was spewing accelerant from a Corona bottle at a police lieutenant and an inspector when they shot him several times around 5:40 p.m. in his backyard in the Astoria neighborhood, the police said. He was taken to a nearby hospital with gunshot wounds to his leg; the lieutenant and inspector, who sustained chemical burns from the accelerant, were taken to a different hospital in stable condition.

The attacks, and the subsequent manhunt, turned a peaceful stretch of businesses and brick homes into a scene of panic and confusion. Officers snaked through backyards and alleyways with their hands on their guns as helicopters circled overhead and residents ducked for cover amid gunfire.

Mr. Dillon is accused of killing George Patouhas, 55, the owner of the liquor store, who was known for his friendly greetings and his lenient payment plans. Despite his easy manner, he was often harassed by an aggressive group of men, including Mr. Dillon, some customers said.

The police said Mr. Dillon had been treated for psychological problems in the past, and his family reported that he had not been taking his medication recently. He started arguing in the liquor store with a 61-year-old man police officials said might have been homeless, and Mr. Patouhas intervened. After stabbing Mr. Patouhas, he stepped outside and threw an accelerant into the store, setting Mr. Patouhas and the other man on fire.

For several hours, the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets and small coffee shops and delis were under lockdown as investigators searched grassy patches for evidence and scoured the neighborhood for him. Then, around 5:11 p.m., Mr. Dillon broke into a nearby apartment on 42nd Street and fled down a fire escape, prompting 911 calls, the authorities said.

Half an hour later, eight to 10 officers caught sight of Mr. Dillon and ran toward 36th Street, where he lived.

As they closed in on his apartment, near the intersection with Astoria Boulevard, around five shots were fired. Officers rushed at the apartment and ordered pedestrians and journalists to keep back.

Two residents scampered into their second-floor apartment and took cover as shots rang out, crying, “What’s happening? What’s happening?”

Investigators said they recovered a green knife and the Corona bottle.

Cristina Squicciarini, 52, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades and heard the officers firing, said, “You don’t think that something would happen on the block you’ve walked on for 35 years.”

The lieutenant and inspector who were burned are assigned to the Critical Response Command, a unit trained to respond to terrorist attacks.

Mr. Dillon has seven prior arrests, most recently on a charge of menacing in 2013 and a marijuana charge in 2009, a law enforcement official said. The other five arrests came when he was a juvenile.

The violence began with a knife attack of the kind that has sown fear in subways and on city streets this year, when Mr. Dillon slashed a 39-year-old neighbor in the head and face near 25-69 36th Street around 11:30 a.m. He fled the scene, and the woman was taken to a hospital in stable condition.

Around 3 p.m., he began another attack at a liquor store customers said he frequented. Mr. Patouhas was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens, and the 61-year-old man was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he was in stable condition.

Frank O’Connor, a longtime customer of the liquor store, said of Mr. Patouhas: “He was such a nice guy, and he would give all these guys favors. They’d say, ‘Let me get a pint of vodka, and I’ll pay you tomorrow.’”

He had helped his father, also called George, sell daisies and roses from a flower stand in a Times Square subway station before striking out on his own and opening the liquor store on Astoria Boulevard decades ago, said a neighbor, Markella Katos, 77.

“He would always stop to say, ‘Good morning, Markella. How are you?’” said Ms. Katos, who also recalled how he would help her fix her heat or lights. “He was a wonderful person and a good neighbor.”

Mr. Patouhas, whose family had roots in Greece, lived with his wife and a young daughter, as well as his wife’s relatives, Ms. Katos said.

In a New York Times article, he once described having to close the flower shop early because of a water main break; in a later article, his father described fending off people who wanted to use his flower pots as toilets.

Mr. Patouhas’s liquor shop, too, put him in contact with rowdy men, some of whom badgered him for free merchandise. Mr. O’Connor said Mr. Dillon was one of them, describing him as “an alcoholic and a druggie” who was known as Fox.

Mr. O’Connor said that on Saturday night Mr. Patouhas “told me these guys bother him.”

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