Last Tuesday, a person being referred to as a teen in Lakewood caught the attention of the local news media after he offered a homeless man $5 to pour a cup of coffee on his head while he recorded it on his mobile phone. A bystander and witness to the event, Carlos Mejia, intervened and made the individual apologize to the man, Ron Leggatt.
Now, both communities are rallying to the aid of Leggatt, helping him with temporary housing and raising donations for him.
Leggatt, who currently lives inside a softball field dugout at the Cedarbridge Avenue Ballfield, accepted the offer and was filmed by the teen.
Mejia posted about the incident on his personal Facebook page and the story exploded on social media.
“I was sitting in my car at Singin’ gas station, that’s between Central Avenue and Cedarbridge Avenue, when I heard this Jew offer this homeless man $5,” Mejia wrote. “At first I thought it was as an act of kindness but I was wrong. He took two coffees he had recently just bought out of his car that were very hot and told the poor man to pour it on his head.”
Mejia said the man, Ron Leggatt complied.
“The man did as he was told. The Jew was recording this with his video camera & laughing,” Mejia said, “Then he offered some spare change if the man would pour another coffee on his head. At that moment I got out of my car full of anger and confronted the [expletive]. He panicked and began to apologize. I felt that wasn’t enough for the damage he had caused.”
Mejia said Leggatt’s eyes and face were red from the burning coffee and he persuaded the would-be YouTube video sensation to give Leggatt and additional $20 and apologize to him.
He said Leggatt is well known in Lakewood.
“Mr. Bruce is a harmless homeless man who doesn’t even ask for money,” he wrote. “He just walks around looking for change on the ground and as you can see would even humiliate himself for a few dollars…this needs to stop.”
On Friday, Mejia’s post was viral both inside and outside of the Lakewood community. Most hailed him a hero for stepping in to defend the homeless man, but others threatened him, some even with legal action. Others sent him private messages on Facebook calling him a liar to fabricate a story to paint the town’s Orthodox Jewish community in a negative light.
“I don’t know why you would post a suck thing and bring on so much hate, it’s disgusting thing to do and despicable but why not go straight to the police, instead of posting a nasty Jew hating post,” asked Jerry Biegeleisen. “I don’t know why you are looking to spread hate got to be a big a-hole to do that.”
“How can you lie like that about Jews?” asked Effy Deutsch. “The pictures aren’t even in Singin’ and [you] understand these are grounds for a potential lawsuit for racial harassment and [you] can be detained and deported to Mexico City by ICE.”
Mejia said he is in the United States legally, which was also confirmed by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Later, Leggatt said he accepted the indecent proposal because he needed money to buy food. He also said the coffee was cold and thought that he would be able to pour the coffee in a way that the heavy wind at the time would blow it away from his head.
“I’m not offended by it,” Leggatt said. “But I didn’t know it was on Facebook.”
The next day, Ari Boyer, of Lakewood tracked Leggatt down and apologized for the action against him by the teenager the day before.
Leggatt told Boyer he’d like a haircut and a shave, but didn’t have any money. Boyer offered and treated Leggatt to a haircut and a shave.
“Nobody should be doing that,” Boyer said to Leggatt. Later that day Boyer took Leggatt for his haircut and to buy new clothes at the Howell Wal-Mart. He later offered to put Leggatt up in a hotel room during the impending snowstorm that was headed for Lakewood that night.
An edited video of the exchange was published on the Lakewood Scoop’s YouTube channel.
Later that night, Leggatt was found in his dugout home, not in a hotel by Reverend Steven Brigham, the former tent city in Lakewood. Brigham and volunteers put Leggatt up in a hotel for the weekend.
Many on social media lashed out at Boyer for not fulfilling his offer, but Boyer explained in a post on the Lakewood Scoop. He said he and Ron did show up to the hotel, but could not get in.
“I was with Ron at the grand motel in the afternoon and noon responded there to the bell they have at the door. Ron did not want to wait because he was hungry. I took him to D&D pizzeria and gave him money for food,” Ari Boyer said on the Lakewood Scoop. “Since I am an observant Jew I was not able to wait and help him any longer at that point until tonight. I was in contact with an organization located in Barnegat who assured me they are on the way to find him and take him to motel. I instructed him to stay at his dugout until they arrived. I am now by the Grand Motel trying to find him and hear what really happened after that.”
Cindy Lanouette, a Tent City volunteer said, “Ron is tickled pink and so grateful for everything everyone is doing for him.”
On Saturday, Al Della Fave of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office reached out to the Shore News Network in the hope of shedding more light on the matter. Della Fave said he has read many things on Facebook and social media that were not quite accurate about the event.
“When the incident happened, the Lakewood Police Department contacted the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and asked for assistance from our high-tech crimes unit,” Della Fave said. The unit specializes in internet and technology related crimes.
Della Fave said Mieja’s accounting of the incident was accurate and matched both of the reports made by the Lakewood Police Department and his own department’s high tech crimes unit.
He said police watched the video from the teen’s phone.
“His [Mejia’s] story matched the video,” Della Fave said. “We appreciate him contacting us.”
Della Fave said another rumor circulating on the internet was that the action of the teen was part of some bigger social media site, but said no evidence existed.
“This was an isolated issue and not part of anything bigger,” he said. “Our investigation learned that he intended to post the video to You Tube where people post videos like that, but it is not at all, in any way related to the Lakewood community as some have said. We did not find any evidence of that at all.”
Lakewood police officers, according to Della Fave advised the teen to delete the video from his phone to prevent it from being shared on the internet in the future.
“They did not want it to be exploited in any way,” he said.
“It was never posted to the internet,” he said. “There was no surveillance video at the gas station. The incident happened as he [Mejia’s] reported it.”
Della Fave said his department worked closely with religious and social leaders in Lakewood’s Orthodox community, who cooperated fully with the investigation.
“They immediately blasted out a message that said it was a horrific act and that if anyone attempts to duplicate it, they will be immediately reported to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.” he added. “They are serious about this not happening again.”
Because no charges were filed, police did not report the age of the individual who solicited Leggatt.
Two “Go Fund Me” sites have been set up to further aid Leggatt. A Lakewood based one has raised $2,700 and a Jackson based on has raised $1,300 to date.