A Palos Verdes Estates liquor store owner testified Thursday that he was ambushed in his store by two men wearing costumes and wielding baseball bats on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, leaving the Muslim Pakistani immigrant wondering if he would survive the 2015 attack.
“I sensed and smelled death,” 66-year-old Shuja Oberoi told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of his lawsuit against 22-year-old George Leventis and 20-year-old Nicholas Ferrara.
Oberoi’s lawsuit, filed in February 2016, alleges he was targeted because of his heritage. Lawyers for Leventis and Ferrara maintain the motive was robbery and that Leventis wanted alcohol to bring to a high school party later that day.
Leventis, who admitted in testimony Thursday that he snatched a bottle of alcohol during the attack, and Ferrera have both conceded liability in the case. The trial is being held to determine the amount of Oberoi’s damages. His face was badly bloodied and his injuries included a broken arm and severe mental distress, according to his attorneys.
According to Oberoi, he had long been active in the city, jogged frequently and looked forward to going to work at Golden Lion Liquor before the attack. He said Ferrara came into the business about three times prior, buying candy and a drink one time and exchanging something during the last visit. Oberoi’s attorneys maintain Ferrara was checking to see if the coast was clear for Leventis and another teen, Mattias Kelterborn, to enter and assault the plaintiff.
Kelterborn and Leventis were 17 years old at the time and Ferrara was 15.
Oberoi said one of the assailants entered shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2015, wearing a costume and a skeleton mask and holding a bat the way a batter would at the plate.
“My first thought was that somebody was trying to pull off a prank,” Oberoi said.
But shortly thereafter, a second intruder similarly dressed and also holding a bat appeared and bottles began crashing from their display cases, Oberoi said. Police have said only one bat was believed to have been used.
The plaintiff said he soon found himself injured on the floor, and trying to find the store security button to call for help.
“I was bleeding, I freaked out,” Oberoi said.
He said he eventually got up after the attack and ran to a nearby restaurant, asking the people there to call the police. He said he returned to the store drenched in blood.
“One moment I would feel I would pass out and another moment I would feel better,” he said.
Oberoi said the attack was uncommon in the city he knew and loved.
“It wasn’t in my wildest dreams that it would ever happen,” Oberoi said.
In his testimony, Leventis insisted robbery, not Oberoi’s ethnicity, was the reason for the attack.
“I only cared about the money and the alcohol,” Leventis said.
Asked by plaintiff’s attorney Philip Cohen if he was concerned if Oberoi survived the attack, Leventis replied, “At that time I was in a pretty dark place and I guess I didn’t care.”
Leventis, Kelterborn and Ferrara were all prosecuted in Long Beach Juvenile Court and sentenced to a juvenile camp.
Kelterborn, who was originally one of several other co-defendants in the civil lawsuit, is no longer part of the case.
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