Lakeland Electric lineman John Applewhite made the trip to New York to help restore power in the aftermath of "Superstorm Sandy." He returned home beaten, bruised and confined to a hospital bed at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
Applewhite was attacked as he was about to walk into a restaurant in New York, leaving him with serious injuries.
He was there on a goodwill mission in East Hempstead, trying to help people get their lives back on track, when a stranger from out of nowhere clocked him in the face.
"It feels good man, it really does," Applewhite said sarcastically, his voice soft as he tried to suck on some ice chips. Right now, that mug full of ice chips is his best friend: the 34 year old can barely open his left eye because it's so swollen. And forget about eating.
"I wish I could chew," he lamented.
He talked softly because his jaw is broken and his left cheekbone cracked.
"It was tense up there, it really was," said Applewhite. "But never did we did we have a reason to think anything like this would happen."
He was attacked Friday night outside a restaurant, after he and his crews had been putting in 16 or more hour days. It's hard work, helping to restore power. And for the most part, he said, people were gracious and thankful for all of their efforts.
Suddenly, a man yelled-out to him from his black BMW as he drove up to where they'd parked their Lakeland Electric trucks.
"He gave me no signs of anything aggressive," said Applewhite. "He was in a nice vehicle, dressed fairly nice from what I could tell."
The man stepped out and met him halfway.
"Just as soon as I got within arm's reach of him, he decked me," Applewhite said.
"Course, my heart went thumpety-thump and I thought oh boy, maybe this is it," said his father Morris, who got the call no lineman's father wants to hear. He thought his son had been electrocuted and was so grateful to hear that wasn't the case. He chalked-up his son's attack to frustration.
"And them people are mad!," said Morris Applewhite. "And them guys go there to eat at a steakhouse, these people over here are sitting without power, they're wondering what the heck's going on. Why are they in there eating and their power's still out."
"I'd sure like to know," said Applewhite from his hospital bed. He has no idea why someone would just attack him like that, but tried to see some humor in his discomfort.
"I'd probably tell him, he's got a heck of a right hook," said Applewhite. "I'm not gonna let it get me down, I enjoy what I do and I'm not gonna let one person spoil that for me, I enjoy helping people out, I'll get over this, it's unfortunate, but there's people out there like that and you can't let 'em get you down, you know?"
And with the holidays right around the corner, he's in a quandary about missing his mama's good cooking.
"A corn dish, called corn souffle, it's the best in the world, world famous," he smiled.
"Turkey, dressing, everything we're gonna put in a blender and let him eat it through a straw!," his father joked.
"Man, I don't know, put it in a blender I guess, try to suck it down," laughed John Applewhite softly.
It was too dark where the attack happened, and with the power out around them, no one was able to see the attacker's license plate. Applewhite said a co-worker tried to subdue the guy, but got his finger bitten and also had to be treated at the hospital.
Applewhite has surgery scheduled for Tuesday morning. Surgeons are going to put two metal plates into his face because there is so much damage. His jaw could be wired shut for at least four or more weeks. We'll keep you posted on his progress.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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