QUEENS, (PIX11) – Charges against a Queens man have been upgraded to manslaughter as a hate crime after he allegedly killed a Sikh man following a fender bender, officials said Tuesday.
“This is a case of a fender bender immediately escalating to hateful language and then brutal, deadly violence,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “We will show in court that it was a rage inflamed by hate that led to this senseless tragedy.”
On Oct. 19, officers responded to a crash on the Van Wyck Expressway in Kew Gardens. The drivers, Jasmer Singh and Gilbert Augustin pulled over to assess the damage to their vehicles.
Augustin got out of his car and approached Singh, who remained seated in his vehicle, according to a witness account. Augustin then argued with Singh and allegedly referred to him as “Turban man,” according to court documents.
Singh was wearing a turban as part of his religious observance as a Sikh, according to court documents.
While arguing with Singh, Augustin told him that he was not going to allow him to go home and did not want him to call the police. Augustin also reached into Singh’s car and grabbed his cellphone, surveillance footage showed.
After Singh stepped out of his vehicle to retrieve his phone, Augustin punched him three times in the head and face, causing his turban to fly off, court documents allege.
Singh fell backward to the ground and hit the back of his head on the pavement, officials said. Augustin then got into his vehicle and drove off, police said.
Singh was taken to a hospital in critical condition with a brain injury. He died the following day, police said.
Augustin was arrested the same day Singh died, according to authorities. He was initially charged with manslaughter, assault, aggravated unlicensed operator, and leaving the scene of an accident, according to the NYPD.
In the days following Singh’s death, his family and the Sikh community in Queens rallied to demand hate crime charges in the case.
Augustin now faces a 20-count indictment, which includes manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime, manslaughter in the first degree, assault in the second degree as a hate crime, two counts of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree, and a slew of other charges. If convicted, Augustin could face up to 25 years in prison.
Matthew Euzarraga is a multimedia journalist from El Paso, Texas. He has covered local news and LGBTQIA topics in the New York City Metro area since 2021. He joined the PIX11 Digital team in 2023. You can see more of his work here.