GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A 22-year-old Marine was arrested early Thursday morning after police said he punched a wheelchair-bound Army veteran twice in the head, knocking him unconscious.
Christopher Dabney, of Gainesville, is charged with abuse of a disabled adult without great harm.
Police were called to a Pita Pit restaurant in the 1700 block of West University Avenue, in a shopping center across the street from the University of Florida, about 2 a.m.
Police said Dabney (booking photo, below) thought Dan Priotti's wheelchair and military outfit was a costume for Halloween, and he took offense to it. Priotti did have fake blood on his face.
Priotti, who is from Palm Coast, said he'd never been punched before, and he still doesn't understand why he was. He said he was just minding his own business and getting something to eat when he was hit.
"I'm sitting there ordering food, and this guy starts yelling at me about being in my uniform," Priotti said. "'You're not real. What are you doing? You're faking it.'"
According to a police report, Dabney's second punch knocked Priotti out of his wheelchair and to the floor, leaving him unconscious. Priotti fell on his head and was taken to a hospital.
"He swung, slapped me, and I backed up and he missed, and he came at me like this and put me right back, and I whacked my head on the concrete floor," Priotti said. "I remember just seeing a guy in a pink tutu. I don't remember saying anything to him. I literally lost 10 minutes."
Police said two people witnessed what happened. Officers said Dabney, who was wearing the pink tutu for Halloween, refused to make any statements about the incident.
Dabney, who was arrested and booked into the Alachua County jail, would later find out Priotti is indeed a veteran who served in the Army and has the papers to prove it. His wheelchair is something he needs after being paralyzed from the waist down in a car crash.
Priotti said he's better now. A few days later, he has a sore jaw, neck and a bump in the back of his head. And although he's taken aback, he's not mad at the man he said hit him. In fact, he didn't even want him to go to jail. He just thinks he needs to learn a lesson.
"They should make a mockery out of him, put him in his pink tutu and put him up and down University Avenue and 13th Street, right in front of the school, with a sign that says, 'I beat up people in wheelchairs, veterans in wheelchairs,' something like that," Priotti said.
Dabney has since been released from jail. He hung up before commenting in a phone interview.
Despite Dabney's actions, Priotti said he can forgive him and thinks they can make amends. Priotti said he'd like to meet up with Dabney, he wants the case to go away quickly and hopes something good can come out of this unfortunate incident.
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