Gene Lyons during an interview at his apartment last week, where he agreed to be photographed on the condition that his facial features be obscured. (Photo:Denise Civiletti)

A disabled Vietnam veteran returning home from a meeting at a downtown Riverhead church Sunday night says he was beaten and robbed by “at least” four men on Maple Avenue near the railroad tracks.

Gene Lyons, 61, had left Riverhead United Methodist Church and was riding his motorized scooter north on Maple Avenue Sunday at about 10:30 p.m. when, he says, he was jumped from behind, thrown to the ground and pummeled with “sticks or pipes” by a group of young men, who stole $84 in cash and prescription medications.

“They left me for dead in the road, laughing as they ran away down the tracks,” Lyons said in an interview at his Riverhead apartment yesterday afternoon.

Lyons said he managed to get up off the road, get back on his scooter and make his way home to his apartment off Middle Road. On Monday morning, he went to Peconic Bay Medical Center’s ER, where he was treated for injuries to his head, torso, right arm and both legs. ER staff urged him to report the incident to police, which he did after he got home from the hospital.

He said he got the feeling police didn’t believe his story.

Detectives are investigating the report, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller told RiverheadLOCAL last night. “But we don’t have much to go on.” Lyons told police he was attacked by “at least four black males,” but could provide no description of his assailants, Hegermiller said.

Maple Avenue near the railroad tracks. (Photo: Denise Civiletti)“They grabbed me from behind, pulled me off my scooter and threw me to the ground and started wailing on me,” Lyons said yesterday, grimacing in pain as he spoke. He said he tried his best to protect his head and face with his arms while they hit him with sticks or pipes. He couldn’t tell which, he said. It was dark and he couldn’t really see his attackers. He counted four males, all of them in their teens or early 20s. They were all dark-skinned, he said. They all wore jeans. One was wearing a white T-shirt, another wore a hooded jacket. One had “a lot of hair, like an afro but messy,” he said. That was all he saw.

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was helpless.”

Lyons said he served in the Marines and was wounded in action in 1970. A bullet shattered his right knee, an injury that’s plagued him for the rest of his life. He’s had three knee replacements and now he’s worried he may need to have surgery on his left knee to mend the damage caused in Sunday night’s attack. 

“I feel extremely violated and disrespected. I served my country. I didn’t feel welcome when I came home and I don’t feel welcome today,” Lyons said, growing emotional, then apologizing for his demonstrativeness.

“I’m sorry. I’m not a sissy. I just don’t understand why they’d have to do this. They could have just asked me for my money. Why would they want to hurt me like that? Why?”

Lyons is the sixth man beaten on downtown Riverhead streets since January; four of those incidents occurred on or near the train tracks. See April 15 story: “Recent muggings of Hispanic men downtown worry Riverhead officals.” All of the other victims were Hispanic men walking alone:

• On April 13, a 33-year-old Hispanic male, was walking on the tracks when he was jumped by two or three men who beat him with something, possibly a tree branch, causing a fractured skull and other injuries.

• On March 17, a Hispanic male reported being robbed at gunpoint by four unknown men on Griffing Avenue, who punched him several times and stole $400 in cash.

• On Feb. 21, a 52-year-old Hispanic man was found lying in the roadway at the intersection of Pulaski Street and Marcy Avenue, with head and face injuries consistent with a physical assault.

• On Jan. 24, a 26-year-old Hispanic man was beaten with a large rock on Sweezy Avenue at 6:15 in the morning, as he walked to work. He suffered a fractured skull and a facial cut requiring six stitches. One of his two attackers brandished a handgun, the victim told police. They did not get any money before fleeing on foot.

• At 10 p.m. on Jan. 24, a 33-year-old Hispanic man was mugged on Griffing Avenue near the railroad crossing. He was beaten with the butt of a handgun and was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment. Two men were involved in the attack; they fled on foot without getting any money from the victim.

Hegermiller couldn’t say whether the attacks were related.

Lyons said he’s lived in Riverhead for about a year and goes to meetings at the East Main Street church regularly. He’s always ridden his scooter home via Ostrander Avenue, he said, but the other night, he headed north on Maple. It turned out to be a costly diversion.

“Since this happened, people have told me it’s a bad block. Even the policeman told me not to go on those side streets,” he said. “He said I should stay on the main roads.”


Editor’s note: Lyons agreed to be photographed for this story on the condition that his facial features be obscured.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.