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'I Thought It Was Doomsday': Witnesses Recall Chaos After Chelsea Bombing

By Maya Rajamani | October 4, 2017 5:31pm

MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — A man in a wheelchair who was outside his home when an explosion rocked West 23rd Street last year “thought it was doomsday” as he witnessed screaming passersby and debris flying through the air, he testified on the third day of accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi's trial. 

Cort Cheek was outside Selis Manor, at 135 W. 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, getting some air on the night of Sept. 17 when he “heard the biggest boom… like it was the end of the world,” he recalled in court Wednesday morning. 

“I didn’t know what was going on — it scared the crap out of me,” said Cheek, who can be seen on surveillance footage captured that night watching pedestrians run past Selis Manor before taking shelter inside. “It happened so fast, I was in shock.”

Cheek, who lives on an upper floor of the building, was “stranded” in the lobby until 4 a.m., as the elevators in his building weren’t working after the bomb went off, he testified.

An aide that helps him into his bed at night wasn’t able to get to the building, as police had cordoned the street off, he added.

“I couldn’t get the boom out of my mind — that boom was the loudest thing I heard in my life,” he recalled Wednesday. “I thought it was doomsday.”

Cheek still has feelings of “nervousness” and “anxiety” as a result of the incident, he testified.

Another West 23rd Street resident, who is blind, took the stand in court Wednesday accompanied by her guide dog, Judy.

The resident, Mary West, was inside her seventh-floor apartment around 8:30 p.m. when she heard an “incredibly loud explosion… louder than you could ever imagine.”

Moments after the explosion, she heard “metal falling to the ground," and the sound of people screaming on the streets.

West thought there might be a shooting happening on her block, she recalled, adding that she worried in the seconds after the incident that she might have been mortally wounded.

“You might be dead and you don’t even realize it yet,” she recalled thinking to herself.

West, realizing she had to get away from her window in case of a shooting, grabbed her fanny pack and guide dog, and ran out of her apartment, she said. 

“If it’s a shooting, you’re going to die — you’re going to get hit,” she thought to herself.

West was only able to return to her apartment a full day after the bombing, she said.

After the incident, she had a “funny feeling in [her] ears, almost like numbness.”

“It was like I had cotton in my ears,” she explained, adding that her hearing has still not returned to normal.

Brooklyn resident Samman Saleem, who works as an Uber driver, was also on the street when the bomb went off.

The driver had just picked up a group of five people from West 35th Street and had turned onto West 23rd Street from Seventh Avenue when he heard “a big noise” that shook his car and deployed his air bag.

“[The] passengers [left] the car and everybody ran away,” recalled Saleem.

When the airbag deployed, it hit him in the head and his left shoulder, he said. After leaving his car with some difficulty — as the door was “very heavy” and the airbag was still deployed — he searched for an ambulance, first passing one with a woman inside who had blood on her chest, he recalled.

A second ambulance took Saleem to the hospital, where they treated him for “head numbness” and swelling to the muscle in his upper left shoulder, he testified.

For two months, he was unable to work or earn any money, he recalled.

“I couldn’t work — this side was injured," he said, gesturing to his left shoulder. "It was hard for me to drive."

When he got his car back after two weeks, the side doors were damaged, the windshield was shattered and the entire left side mirror had fallen out of whack, he said. The hood of the car was dented, and there was a hole in the driver’s side door.

“My car was brand new. I just bought this car,” he said, adding that it took two weeks to repair it and cost around $12,300. “I just bought this car, and this happened.”