NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It came out of nowhere.
A man allegedly went on a rampage in Union Square on Wednesday afternoon and left a complete stranger brain-dead in the process.
Police said that the attack may have been a hate crime.
Friends of Jeffrey Babbitt, 62, were shocked to hear about the random act of violence that left the gentle, retired train conductor in a coma, CBS 2's Dave Carlin reported on Friday.
"I don't believe that. I don't know why that happened. He is very nice," Igor Sapozhnikov said.
Babbitt was minding his own business as he walked through the crowd near the chess boards in Union Square when a man made a hateful announcement and began his rampage, witnesses said.
"He said 'the next white person who walks by I'm going to [expletive],'" one woman said. "His fist went in and the man's head bobbed and he hit the ground and you could hear his skull hitting the ground."
The man continued his rampage before demanding to see police officers.
"He stood there and hit two more people and asked for the police to come," Michael Benson said.
Stunned witnesses counted a total of three people attacked. The suspect, Lashawn Marten, 31, remained at the scene until police arrived.
Babbitt was on the ground with blood flowing from his head. Nearby were two other victims icing their faces.
Because of Marten's alleged comments about targeting white people the incident could result in hate crime charges in addition to felony assault charges, according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
"Obviously our Hate Crimes Task Force is involved in aspects of that case," Kelly said.
Witnesses said they were amazed at the brazen, public nature of the assault.
"This is such a crowded area. You'd expect it in a back alley, but there are so many people here. That's the strange part," Garrett Browning said.
Babbitt was taken to Bellevue Hospital. Family and friends said that he is in a coma and has been declared brain-dead.
His 92-year-old mother, Hedda, was by his side. She shared a Sheepshead Bay apartment with her son. He was her primary caregiver.
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