Blind Man Who Was Robbed Twice in Queensbridge Says He Isn't Afraid
QUEENSBRIDGE HOUSES — It's been more than a week, but William Brandon says his neck still aches in the spots where a mugger wrapped an arm around his throat, choking him until he collapsed on the living room floor of his apartment in the Queensbridge Houses.
Brandon, who is 73, blind and wears two hearing aids, rubs Bengay on his neck every night before bed to help ease the pain.
"My body feels bad," he said.
Brandon was robbed twice in the span of two weeks by the same suspect, a construction worker who followed him into his apartment and, in the most recent attack last Tuesday, choked him until he lost consciousness, police said.
Police arrested Ronald Rhodes, of Brooklyn, on Wednesday in connection with the robberies, which outraged and alarmed neighbors in the NYCHA complex — where Brandon is affectionately known as "Mr. Brandon," or "Junior."
But the senior says he's not letting the incidents get to him.
"I'm not scared. I'm not afraid of nothing," he said. "It could happen to anybody. It could happen at the bus stop, it could happen on the street, it could happen on the subway — you can't win."
Brandon, who has lived at the Queensbridge Houses for more than three decades, said he was coming home from the supermarket when the first mugging occurred on June 29. As he was walking into his apartment, he got the eerie feeling that someone else was nearby, he said.
"I feel like somebody passed behind me. I have a feeling, you know, like when a breeze blows," Brandon recalled.
He unpacked his groceries, putting food in the refrigerator and a bunch of bananas on his kitchen table, he said — but got the feeling again that someone was in the apartment with him.
That's when the suspect allegedly grabbed Brandon, yanked a gold chain from around his neck, then fled the apartment. Brandon said he followed the suspect out into the hallway and heard his footsteps hurrying downstairs, and out of the building.
In the second incident on July 9, a man came up to Brandon from behind as he was putting his keys in the door. The attacker put him in a chokehold and forced his way into the apartment, and Brandon said he couldn't breathe or talk because of the mugger's grip on his neck.
"He was smart," he said. "He choked me so I couldn't holler."
Brandon came to later, aching and groggy, on his living room floor. He could barely stand and had to hold onto furniture to ease his way to a neighbor's apartment for help.
Brandon said the thief stole two cell phones, his keys, a diamond ring off his finger, and broke a lock on his closet door.
Rhodes is suspected of hawking the chain for $50 and five bags of heroin. He was hit with robbery and other charges and is being held in lieu of $175,000 cash bail or $300,000 bond, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's office said.
The muggings put tenants in the Queensbridge Houses on edge. The Tenants Association held an emergency meeting with police and local elected officials last week to discuss safety precautions, particularly for disabled or elderly residents who are more vulnerable to crime.
Cops say shootings at the NYCHA development are up — there have been five so far in 2013, compared to three this time last year. A livery cab driver was robbed at gunpoint nearby two weeks ago, and a teenage girl was shot in the shoulder in the courtyard of a Queensbridge Houses building last month.
Still, Brandon said he feels safe in the building, where he knows everyone and has a lot of friends nearby.
"I've lived here 31 years, and nobody bothers me," he said. "Everybody looks out for me."
Originally from Belize, Brandon grew up the only boy in a family of four sisters. He said he has nieces and nephews who live in different parts of the country who call to check in on him often.
After the muggings, one nephew who lives in Whitestone, Queens, asked Brandon to move in with him — but he says he's reluctant to leave Queensbridge, where he's been for so many years and lives an active and largely independent life.
He has a home health aid who comes a few times a week to help out around the house, but takes the bus and subway alone three days a week to a center for the blind in Manhattan. On the other days, he frequents the Jacob Riis Senior Center on the Queensbridge Houses campuses.
He has a lot of longtime friends in the neighborhood, and Queensbridge, with a subway station and several bus lines nearby, is a convenient place to live, he said.
"To tell you the truth, I'd prefer to stay," he said. "I'm comfortable here."