Two in custody after Rockaway deli altercation leaves man on life support

Pickles & Pies is located on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park, Queens.
Photo by John Schilling

A verbal dispute escalated into a physical altercation at a Rockaway deli on Sunday, June 11, that left a man on life support and led to the arrest of the two employees who allegedly assaulted him, according to authorities.

Police first responded to the incident at 5:10 a.m. after a 911 call of “an assault in progress” at the 24-hour deli at 202 Beach 116th St., known locally as Pickles & Pies. Upon their arrival, the responding officers found 31-year-old James Keena “with injuries about the body.”

According to the preliminary investigation at the scene, police determined that Keena was a customer who had engaged in a verbal dispute with two store employees, 23-year-old Jorge Hernandez and 34-year-old Saber Abuhamra, of Cornaga Avenue in Far Rockaway.

Keena, who resides in Arverne, was transported to Far Rockaway’s St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, where, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, he arrived in “critical condition” and was placed on life support after not being able “to breath on his own.” Police initially reported that Keena arrived in stable condition before suffering “a medical episode” that left him “critical, but stable.”

The day after the incident, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced that the dispute began after the store’s two employees “allegedly came out from behind the counter” and “attacked a customer who complained about his food.”

According to the charges, Hernandez is accused of punching and pushing Keena and causing him to hit his head on the store’s counter before putting his arm around his neck and holding him on the floor. Abuhamra is accused of then punching and kicking Keena “in the head and stomach” for several minutes after he “lost consciousness” and “until he began seizing and shaking.”

Hernandez and Abuhamra were taken into custody at the scene.

“This is yet another instance where a seemingly minor dispute escalated into serious physical violence,” Katz said in a statement. “We will hold these defendants accountable.”

Hernandez and Abuhamra were arraigned on charges of assault in the second degree, strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree on Monday, June 12. Queens Criminal Court Judge Maria Gonzalez ordered both men to return to court on June 16. If convicted, they each face up to seven years in prison.

In the immediate aftermath, rumors spread throughout local Facebook groups and CitizenApp that the 31-year-old man attempted to rob the place with a gun, but police have since confirmed that there were no weapons involved in the altercation.

After being closed and guarded by officers on Sunday, Pickles & Pies reopened later that day. A store employee, who refused to provide his name to QNS, said the employees were all “fine” and that the deli’s security footage has yet to be reviewed due to technical difficulties.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:20 p.m. on June 12.