Sometimes it’s easy to forget that behind almost every news headline is a real person. Usually the person in the headline did something affirmative to earn that distinction, but what about when the headline is about a victim? Last week I wrote about a New York Rangers hockey fan who was beaten by Philadelphia Flyers fans outside a South Philly cheesesteak stand. To make for a catchy or funny title, I even borrowed a famous trademark from the restaurant’s main competitor.
But when I saw Neal Auricchio Jr. (the victim of the crime) interviewed on local news a couple nights ago, it made me feel like what I’d written was insensitive, or at least that it was subject to that interpretation. As it turns out the assailed Rangers fan is practically a neighbor of mine. He’s a police officer, and a former U.S. Marine, who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service to our country, while stationed in Iraq. Also, Mr. Auricchio is a husband, and father to a young son, and he wasn’t just roughed up—he was severely beaten, to the extent that he’ll need facial reconstructive surgery, and won’t return to the police force for months.
I never meant any disrespect to Mr. Auricchio by what I wrote, but I didn’t want there to be any confusion. I make my living by carefully choosing words that will have a specific and desired effect on their respective listener or reader. In most cases, my goal (no pun intended) is to create sympathy for my client, which sometimes calls for sarcasm or other similar rhetoric. In this circumstance, the butt of my joke should have been Dennis Veteri, the 32-year-old south Jersey man who led the brutal attack on Mr. Auricchio.
As it turns out, Veteri doesn’t only look like Richie Aprile, but he’s about as unsavory a character as the one portrayed by actor David Proval on the HBO hit series about New Jersey mob life. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Veteri has eleven prior arrests in four different states, including seven criminal convictions, for everything from drugs and robbery, to assault with a deadly weapon—when he was eighteen years-old Veteri stabbed his own brother with a kitchen knife! Those charges were dismissed, presumably because Nicholas Veteri refused to cooperate with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. (See a detailed account of Veteri’s criminal history in Mike Newall’s article at Philly.com.)
For now, Veteri is free on $400,000 bail, but given the brutality of the crime, the evidence against him, and his criminal record, not to mention the fact that this case has now garnered a lot of publicity, I think it’s safe to say that Veteri won’t escape jail this time. Veteri hired Philadelphia personal injury attorney Michael A. DeFino to defend him against the criminal charges. DeFino says the whole thing is just a fist fight that’s been blown out of proportion. Meanwhile Auricchio has retained one of New Jersey’s most prominent plaintiffs’ attorneys, Ray Gill, to represent him in the civil suit. And as for Richie Aprile, we all remember what happened to that prick…