A Hewlett Harbor man is due back in First District Court in Mineola on Jan. 4 to face attempted murder charges after he attacked an employee and the owner of Joey’s Pizza in Lynbrook with a machete, according to Village of Lynbrook police.
Michael Ciraolo, 26, was arrested at the shop on Nov. 29 and charged with attempted murder, assault, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon after he allegedly tried to slash em-ployee Sal Lopez and brandished the weapon at owner Joey Poplardo, police said. Ciraolo had spent time at the store for months before the incident, learning how to make pizza under Poplardo’s guidance.
Poplardo, who has owned the pizzeria, at 5 Huntington Ave., for 15 years, recounted that he was in the back of the shop shortly after 11 a.m. on the day of the alleged attack when he heard a commotion out front. Ciraolo had entered the store, machete in hand, and angrily swung it at Lopez, trying to decapitate him, according to Poplardo.
“We always knew he could go off, because it seemed like he could go off,” Poplardo said of Ciraolo, whom he described as 6 feet tall and weighing about 230 pounds. “But we never thought he was going to go off like that. We had considered him a friend.”
Poplardo said he agreed to teach Cir-aolo how to make pizza six months ago because he came in and said he wanted to learn the craft. Poplardo be-gan teaching him different recipes, and he and his mother came often to the eatery. A few months ago, Poplardo said, Ciraolo hurt his shoulder in a bike accident and had to take a leave of absence from his job as a dishwasher at a local TGI Friday’s. During his time away from work, Ciraolo started spending more hours at Joey’s. “His mother would tell me how she loves him so much, and to be gentle if I ever wanted him to leave because he looked up to me,” Poplardo recalled. “I said, ‘He can hang around as much as he wants,’ and he started helping us make boxes.”
Ciraolo coveted Lopez’s job, but Poplardo told him he was fully staffed and could not take on a new employee. It all came to a head at 11:13 a.m. on Nov. 29. Lopez was stacking flour in the front of the store when Ciraolo walked in with the machete. He struck Lopez in the back of the neck with the weapon three times, Poplardo said, adding that he appeared to be trying to cut his head off, but Lopez was wearing a particularly thick hoodie.
“He hit him in the back of the neck three times, but the blade couldn’t penetrate the hoodie,” Poplardo said. “It was a miracle.” Lopez suffered lacerations on his neck, and has not returned to work since. Surveillance footage from the restaurant shows Ciraolo heading toward the back of the store after his alleged attack on Lopez, where he confronted Poplardo and his wife, Adi, and started swinging the machete wildly. There were no customers in the store at the time.
“I look up, and I see this kid standing with a three-foot machete, and there he was, as we always feared, going off,” Poplardo said.
Poplardo wrestled with Ciraolo over the weapon, at which point an injured Lopez walked into the back to help his boss. The three of them grappled against the wall, and Poplardo grabbed the machete, but Ciraolo bit Lopez’s hand and almost took his fingers off, Poplardo said. The scuffle at the back of the store was captured on camera and provided to the Herald, but the surveillance in the front of the business was not working that day, Poplardo said, so there is no footage of the alleged attack on Lopez.
Adi Poplardo ran next door to Owens Truckmen, a trucking company, to seek help. According to Poplardo, five employees from the store raced over and subdued Ciraolo outside the business, and held him down until police arrived. A person who answered the phone at Owens Truckmen said that Poplardo’s account was accurate but declined to comment further. “This story is all about the guys next door,” Poplardo said. “They deserve recognition.”
Lynbrook police took Ciraolo into custody, and he appeared in First District Court on Dec. 4 and was ordered to return on Jan. 4. Robert Schalk of the Mineola-based Schalk, Ciacio & Kahn P.C. is representing him. Schalk did not return a call requesting comment at press time. Ciraolo is now in the custody of the Nassau County sheriff’s office.
Poplardo said he hoped that Ciraolo would receive the proper counseling upon sentencing. “Whatever the punishment is, it is,” he said. “But this guy needs help.”