Man driving stolen MTA truck downs trees, wires in Elmont

August 27, 2013 2:14:03 PM PDT
Thousands of customers on Long Island were without power Tuesday after a man driving a stolen MTA truck apparently knocked down blocks of power poles and wires.

Joel Grasman smiled at reporters.

"It was a big mistake," Grasman said.

But police say he has no idea the damage he caused.

"It looks like a war zone here, we didn't have it this bad after Sandy," a resident said.

Residents say it was far worse than anything they'd ever seen from Mother Nature.

Power lines were ripped-apart and utility poles were snapped like twigs.

An entire residential neighborhood was tangled in cables and left in the dark after Grasman apparently drove a 30-ton truck through the streets with the crane extended and unsecured.

"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," said Inspector Kenneth Lack, Nassau County Police Department.

Authorities say Grasman works at an MTA maintenance yard, where he unlocked the gates in the middle of the night and used the truck to steal welding equipment.

Police later found the equipment in his driveway and investigators believe he was returning the truck when he ripped-up his neighbors' power grid at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Joel Grasman has been an MTA employee since 1990, but is currently on disability with an unspecified back injury. He has several prior arrests in the 1980's for trespassing, possession of stolen property, petty larceny, drug possession and DWI.

"It's unbelievable, it's going to take days before this is going to be repaired, it's unbelievable," a resident said.

It's hard to believe that one person could allegedly cause that much damage.

"I have lived here 14 years and I am stuck in my own neighborhood. I have traveled all around these parkways and I can't get out everyone has blocked off every street," said Lisa Dunner, a North Valley Stream resident.

LIPA crews were called in from all over Long Island to deal with the tornado like cleanup.

The destruction knocked out power to more than 6,100 people.

By the evening, about 100 were still in the dark.

"We're going to work throughout the night as necessary to get everyone back," said Nick Lizanich, of LIPA.

The path of destruction extends some two miles through North Valley Stream and Elmont.

People remember hearing the truck barreling through their neighborhood at 4 a.m.

"Out of nowhere we hear the crashing. We see the truck not stopping, why is he not stopping?" said Kirk Pone, a North Valley Stream resident.

So who is going to pay to clean all this up?

"Our claims processing group will be involved and we will go after whoever is responsible for this damage to recover the costs," Lizanich said.