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A New York driver accused of beating a Sikh man to death after a collision is charged with hate crimes

By Jessica Xing and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

(CNN) — A New York City man accused of fatally beating a 66-year-old Sikh man following a car collision nearly two weeks ago was arraigned Tuesday on a slew of charges, including hate crimes, prosecutors said.

The defendant, Gilbert Augustin, 30, of Queens, was driving in that borough on October 19 when Jasmer Singh collided with him, according to the office of Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz.

During a dispute between the two drivers after the crash, Augustin allegedly repeatedly called Singh – who wore a turban as part of his religious practice – “turban man,” prosecutors said in news release, citing a witness. Augustin eventually punched Singh three times in the head and face, causing him to fall and hit his head on the pavement, according to prosecutors.

Singh suffered a brain injury and was taken to a hospital, where he died the next day, the news release reads.

“This is a case of a fender bender immediately escalating to hateful language and then brutal, deadly violence,” Katz said in the release. “We will show in court that it was a rage inflamed by hate that led to this senseless tragedy.”

Augustin pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 20 charges related to the incident, including first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and second-degree assault as a hate crime, according to court records. The charges also include reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it, and operating a motor vehicle without a license, an indictment filed in a state court in Queens County shows.

The incident was not initially investigated as a hate crime, a New York Police Department spokesperson said.

“During a Queens district attorney’s grand jury, new information came to light that was not originally revealed to NYPD detectives,” the spokesperson said.

James Concemore Neville, Augustin’s defense attorney, called the case “a very difficult one for all parties concerned.”

“I will say that it’s a very sad, tragic case, and that my job in this situation … is to protect Mr. Augustin’s rights – his constitutional rights,” Neville told CNN.

Augustin is expected back in court on December 6. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison, the district attorney’s office said.

CNN has sought comment from Singh’s family.

How the attack unfolded, according to prosecutors

Prosecutors laid out a timeline of how they say the collision and ensuing confrontation between Augustin and Singh occurred.

Shortly before noon on October 19, Singh’s car collided with Augustin’s while the two were driving on the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens, prosecutors said in the news release.

After both drivers pulled over, a witness saw Augustin get out of his car and walk over to Singh, who was still sitting in his vehicle, according to the release.

During a verbal argument that followed, Augustin became angry with Singh and referred to him several times as “turban man,” prosecutors said, citing the witness. Augustin told Singh he was not going to allow him to go home, and that he did not want Singh to call police, according to prosecutors.

At some point, Augustin reached into Singh’s car and grabbed his cell phone, and Singh got out of his car and followed Augustin, the release reads. The pair appeared to argue before Singh got his phone back and began to go back to his car, prosecutors said, citing witness testimony and surveillance footage.

As Singh was walking away, Augustin punched him three times, knocking his turban off and causing Singh to fall and sustain the brain injury, the release reads. Singh died the following day.

One day after the attack, a police officer found Augustin sitting in his car in Queens’ Jamaica neighborhood, prosecutors said, noting the car had scratches and a small dent on the rear driver’s side.

Augustin was then taken into custody after he couldn’t show police a valid driver’s license and DMV records showed his license was suspended, according to the release.

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