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Man arrested in strangling death of gay man in Elmhurst hotel

By Joe Anuta and Rebecca Henely

Police arrested a 23-year-old man and charged him with the murder of Joseph Benzinger, who was found strangled in an Elmhurst hotel room last weekend, the NYPD said Thursday.

Lleuyel Garcia, of Manhattan, was charged with murder, robbery and criminal possession of stolen property in connection with the death of what the New York Post reported was his 54-year-old beau at the Crown Motor Inn, located at 74-01 Queens Blvd.

Benzinger, who hailed from Middle Village, was a former city Sanitation worker.

In the days leading up to Garcia’s arrest, the case had gained attention in the borough’s LGBT community, largely due to the efforts of City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who noted that Benzinger’s death came on the heels of another homicide in the area.

On Jan. 27, 53-year-old David Rangel was found slain in his Jackson Heights apartment, according to police.

Dromm cautioned the community to be vigilant about online dating sites, but the Post reported that Benzinger knew his alleged killer for years and police had not released evidence that Rangel met his killer on an online dating site.

Police found Benzinger dead inside his room at the inn at 11:40 p.m. Benzinger had lacerations on his hand and his head and suffered bruising around his neck, according to the NYPD. He appeared to have been strangled, police said, although Benzinger’s official cause of death will not be determined until an autopsy is performed.

Rangel was found Jan. 27 at 6:45 p.m. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide days later. No arrests have been made in Rangel’s case as of Thursday. He taught Spanish and English as a second language at a middle school in Flushing.

Dromm said while a connection to online dating has not been established, he said the safety precautions are good to know no matter what.

“We don’t want people to panic, but at the same time we want people to be cautious,” the councilman said.

The Crown Motor Inn has been the site of violence in the past.

In the summer of 2003, then 28-year-old Juan Batista of Corona hanged his 2-year-old son from a shower rod inside the motel, according to the Queens district attorney’s office. Batista later pleaded guilty to the crime in 2005, according to the DA.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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