Famous Cases | Historical Tales | Vampires | Zombies
by Michelle Hunter, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday April 07, 2009, 9:51 AM
|Metairie (yellow) is just west of New Orleans|
Joseph Lancellotti, 67, told authorities he did not know the suspect, later identified as Mario Vargas, 48, or why he was attacked in his front yard.
Lancellotti was gardening at his home in the 4400 block of Kawanee Avenue about 2 p.m. when he noticed a man walking toward his house, shouting angrily, the report said. Lancellotti said he couldn't understand the man because he was yelling in Spanish. But when the man got within two feet, he slugged Lancellotti in the head, the report said.
Lancellotti said he tried to defend himself with a garden rake. As the men struggled over the rake, the stranger bent over and bit Lancellotti on his right forearm, the report said. Lancellotti's flesh ripped away as he fell to the ground. The man then got on top of Lancellotti and began choking him, the report said.
It was then that neighbor Chantal Lorio, a podiatrist and director of the Wound Center at East Jefferson General Hospital, came out to check on Lancellotti. Lorio said Monday that she first thought Lancellotti was having a heart attack and the other man was trying to help him.
The stranger was still gripping Lancellotti as Lorio noticed her neighbor was lying in a pool of blood. She didn't learn what happened until she began dressing the wound -- with the stranger still clutching her neighbor's shirt.
"He said, 'He bit my arm, chewed the flesh and swallowed it in front of me, ' " Lorio recalled. She said the bite measured almost 3 by 1 1/2 inches, and was less than 1/4-inch deep.
The pair tried to calm the stranger, who never made any attempt to run away. He eventually let go of Lancellotti and walked two blocks to a parking lot, where he hovered near an empty police car, the report said. The suspect was still standing there when deputies arrived and took him into custody.
Vargas, of 724 Camp St., New Orleans, was booked with second-degree battery. He was being held Monday at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Lancellotti's wife, Bonnie, 60, said Monday that her husband was recovering from the bite, physically and mentally. She said his sense of safety in his neighborhood has been shaken.
With all the bacteria involved, Lorio said a bite from a human is worse than an animal bite.
Bonnie Lancellotti also has concerns about the suspect, who apparently had been treated at East Jefferson General Hospital earlier in the day for a finger injury. Vargas was released 45 minutes before the attack, according to the incident report.
Bonnie Lancellotti wondered whether hospital staff noticed anything amiss while treating Vargas. "This person's clearly lost his sense, " she said. "I mean, what else can you say, eating people's skin?"
Keith Darcey, spokesman for the hospital, said, "We cannot comment on any individual patient because of privacy laws. But as a matter of general hospital policy, the emergency department has behavioral health nurses available to help diagnose patients who might require mental health assistance."