In the early hours of Sunday morning, August 21 life for a young Co. Down immigrant living in the Bronx drastically changed after he was savagely beaten unconscious by an unknown attacker on his way home from a night out.
Today 36-year-old Paul Caldwell is waiting to hear about a double cornea transplant so his vision can be restored. He has spent the past 13 weeks in and out of hospital undergoing painful operations to repair the damage that was done to his face that summer’s night in August.
According to doctors Caldwell’s lower face fell away from his face, meaning the lower half of his skull had broken away from his top half during the assault.
On August 20 Caldwell and his girlfriend Andrea had attended the New York Ladies GAA benefit night in Yonkers with friends. When that came to an end the pair continued to socialize with friends in some local bars in Yonkers. As closing time approached Caldwell left a local bar with his friend who got a taxi into the city leaving the Co. Down man to walk home, something he did every weekend because his apartment is only minutes down the road.
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Unfortunately on this particular night there was a man, described by a witness as being in his late 20’s, white and wearing a white dress shirt with blue boxes, dark jeans and dark sneakers, who was waiting to prey on an innocent victim.
As Caldwell approached 241st street in the Bronx approximately 3.45 a.m. that morning he was viciously attacked by this man. Caldwell was thrown to the ground and savagely kicked in his head numerous times before a passerby came to his rescue.
The passerby chased off the attacker and immediately tended to Paul who was lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood. An Irish nurse also came on the scene seconds later. An ambulance was called and Caldwell was immediately taken to a local hospital. The nurse went with him. By this time Paul’s attacker had fled into a local park not to be seen again.
Police have not been able to locate him and the Irish community is now in fear of the same thing happening to them.
Paul, from Rostrevor in Down, allowed the Irish Voice into his apartment last week to share his story and to press upon the community that “it isn’t safe to walk home alone at night.”
Sitting on his sofa, wearing dark glasses to prevent headaches he frequently gets from bright lights, Caldwell spoke softly about the attack, his recovery and how his life has changed so dramatically.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” said Paul shaking his head.
“I haven’t an enemy in the world and can’t understand how this could happen to me.”
Although no money or personal belongings were taken from the Irish man he believes that the attacker hadn’t time to carry out a robbery because the passerby interrupted him.
“I have no idea what he wanted or why he would do such a cruel thing but I’m glad this Good Samaritan came along to save my life,” admitted Caldwell, who lived in Queens for many years before moving to Woodlawn.
Paul, a bricklayer by trade, woke up in St. Barnabas hospital in the Bronx to a face he didn’t recognize. His attacker broke every bone in his face leaving him unrecognizable.
“My skull was cracked into pieces,” he said.
“It was very scary to be honest.”
Caldwell’s cousin, Niall Rice from Co. Dublin, told the Irish Voice he was only able to identify him by his shoes.
“When Paul got to the hospital his injuries were so bad that they initially thought he must have been hit by a car, they were that bad,” shared Rice.
Caldwell suffered broken eye sockets, broken cheeks, a broken nose and jaw and received multiple head fractures.
He has undergone numerous operations to rectify the broken bones, has five titanium plates keeping his face together and faces many more procedures to bring him back to the person he was before the attack.
Paul’s eyes were removed for repair but when they were put back in his vision was affected. He is now waiting on news about the double cornea transplant.
“I can’t see anything from my right eye and only about ten to 20 percent on my left, depending on the day. It’s like looking out a frosted window,” he said.
“And then I have to wait a year or two to see if my body doesn’t reject them so it’s going to be a long road to recovery.”
The young man will also need a lot of dental work, cheek and nose repairs down the road.
Paul doesn’t have medical insurance and the medical bills are already making a large pile on his kitchen table.
“I’ve no idea how I’m going to start paying them,” he said despondently.
“I’ve no income and won’t for a long time,”
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Friends and relations of Caldwell are running a big benefit for him in the Heritage Bar and Restaurant in Yonkers on Sunday December 4. The fundraiser will kick off at 3pm and is expected to run late into the night. Boston’s Erin Og will perform. There will be live auctions on the night. Superb prizes have already been donated from local businesses and friends including a signed Chelsea and Celtic jersey, a signed 2011 Dublin football jersey, a round of golf with drinks and dinner, a night out in a bar for six people and many more.
“We hope the Irish community will come out and help Paul. If you knew Paul you would know that no one would wish him any harm and for this awful vicious thing to happen to him is unthinkable. We want to see Paul make a full recovery and get back to the great life he has here in New York,” said Rice.
Caldwell is bound to his apartment on days that the sun shines outside because the pain he sufferers is unbearable from the bright light. He can’t work and can only listen to the television.
“It’s sheer boredom alright, I can’t text or use a computer and I’m here alone most of the day so it’s hard but I’m trying to stay positive and hope I can get back to some sort of normal life soon enough,” he said.
When Paul does venture outside it’s frustrating for him because he can’t see anyone.
“People shout at me from across the road and I can’t see who they are. It’s embarrassing you know,” he said.
“It’s not a nice way to be.”
Brick layering is the only profession the Co. Down man knows but working in that field again is not likely.
“Doctors told me my eyes will always be sensitive to infection and astigmatism so any dust at all can affect them so working in construction is out of the question,” Caldwell said.
“I guess I’ll have to find something else to do but it won’t be easy.”
Caldwell hopes his attacker will be caught soon and won’t strike again.
“I would like if anyone has any information on the night to contact my cousin Niall (email address below) to help put my attacker behind bars,” he said.
Executive Director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, Orla Kelleher, told the Irish Voice that Caldwell's case isn’t unique.
“We have seen many cases over the years and more so recently of people being savagely attacked on their way home from a night out,” she said.
“They (attackers) seem to prey on the vulnerable at that time of the night. It could be they are looking for money for drugs or alcohol.”
Kelleher advises people to always get a taxi no matter the distance to their homes.
“We keep advising men and women to spend the few dollars on a taxi for their safety. It’s a must at this stage.”
“I can’t stress enough the importance of never walking home alone at night. Look what happened to me and what I’ve ahead of me in terms of recovery. I don’t want this to happen to anyone again and remember my attacker is still out there so please be careful and get a taxi to your doorstep,” he said.
Charlie Maguire, a Co. Galway immigrant living in Yonkers, told the Irish Voice he will never go home on foot again.
"After hearing about Paul I will never walk home alone again. It's not worth the risk. I've heard there has been two more beatings in the area since Paul's attack so it's something we all need to be vigilant about," said Maguire.
Paul would like to thank all the staff at St. Barnabas and Bronx-Lebanon hospital, especially the nurses, his girlfriend, cousins and friends who have rallied around to support him, Sr. Christine and the staff at the Aisling Irish Community Center and the staff at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center for their help and support in this troubling and difficult time.
To contact a member of the committee call Mary Fay on 914 258 5833 or Niall Rice 914 557 4055. Niall can also be reached on- [email protected]