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Troubled South Jamaica man kills himself in fiery roadside suicide

A police officer covers the car with a sheet. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

A troubled man stepped out of his South Jamaica home early last Thursday, crossed the street to his parked car, got inside and then set it ablaze in an apparent suicide, neighbors and the FDNY said.

Florence Venzen, who for eight years rented a room to the 57-year-old suicide victim, said she was sitting on the stoop of her building the day before speaking with a friend when he walked past them and announced he was going to kill himself.

“He said he was going to pour gasoline on his car and blow himself up, and that’s what he did,” she said, her voice soft and deflated with dejection. “He should have never done something like that. It was senseless, uncalled for.”

The Fire Department responded to the call of a car fire around 11:15 a.m. at the corner of 147th Street and 111th Avenue, where firefighters found the gray Ford Crown Victoria, its interior torched and the man’s corpse sitting upright in the driver’s seat.

Lonnie Powers said he was walking by when he saw the man — a security guard whom neighbors called “Robo,” short for RoboCop — pull a gray car cover over his vehicle, climb inside and set himself on fire.

“There was too much fire. He started fighting to get out,” he said, recalling those who chose to jump to their deaths from the World Trade Center rather than suffer the extreme heat of the burning building. “All that heat will make you change your mind, trust me.”

As the medical examiner arrived on the scene, Powers, a minister, stood across the street from the investigation with a group of men who said the suicide victim was a pleasant man, and they were not aware he had become depressed until they learned of the suicide notes he left behind.

“It sounded like he was crying out for help yesterday. He didn’t love Jesus in his heart,” said Powers, the others around him nodding in agreement.

Venzen said her tenant left behind several copies of a suicide note that read “[I] can’t stand the pressure. [I] don’t want to be a burden.”

“You’re no burden to me,” she wanted to tell him.

Venzen said her tenant, a diabetic, had a mother who lived in California and a child in Virginia for whom he paid child support. She said that on Monday he passed out and was admitted to Queens General Hospital. He had fallen behind on his rent, but she said since he had lived with her so long, it was not an issue for her.

“I told him, ‘It’s fine with me. We’ll catch up,’” she said.

“He had a lot of different problems,” she explained, and said from time to time he would talk about ending his life.

“I didn’t think he was serious,” she said, her eyes vacant as she stared out through and past the car with its blown-out windows.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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