As a Sikh, Sukhvir Singh says he has encountered racial harassment before, but he never feared it could lead to his death.
But on Saturday, police say, the Orange Cab driver withstood a violent attack from a drunken passenger who punched him, bit off a piece of his scalp, called Singh an "Iraqi terrorist" and threatened to kill him. The attack ended after a Metro bus pulled up to the cab and a passenger called 911.
Luis Vázquez, a 20-year-old construction worker from Kent, was charged Tuesday with third-degree assault and one count of malicious harassment, the state's hate-crime law. If convicted, Vázquez faces up to a year in jail, according to a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office.
After the attack, Singh was treated at Harborview Medical Center and released. He was later admitted to Valley Medical Center in Renton and remains hospitalized because of kidney problems. He said it's unclear whether the problems are a result of the attack.
Speaking from his hospital bed Tuesday, Singh said it is difficult to talk about the attack, but he is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.
"I live here, and I love America. I love to serve my community and my people here," said Singh, of Kent, a father of two. "It's very hard to think about." . . .
Vázquez later told investigators that he was afraid of Singh because Vázquez "had a buddy in Iraq," according to charging papers. Singh isn't Iraqi. He's an Indian-born member of the Sikh religion, which claims up to a half-million followers in the U.S.
Because the case appears to be a hate crime, the FBI has launched a civil-rights inquiry, said spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs. The facts gathered by agents will be sent to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and if attorneys there think more information is necessary, the FBI will launch a full-blown investigation, Burroughs said.
The New York-based Sikh Coalition had pushed for prosecutors to file the case as a hate crime. (MORE)