MIAMI – A homeless man whose face was mostly chewed off in a bizarre assault alongside a busy South Florida highway told police that his attacker "just ripped me to ribbons."
In a recorded interview with investigators made available Thursday, Ronald Poppo said the man who approached him initially seemed friendly. Then the man, Rudy Eugene, seemed to become angry about something that had happened on Miami Beach, where thousands were partying through the Memorial Day weekend.
"For a while he was acting nice. Then he got flustered. He probably remembered something that happened on the beach and was not happy about it," Poppo told investigators in the interview. It was taped July 19 and first reported Wednesday by Miami news station WFOR-TV.
Poppo said Eugene then "turned berserk" and attacked with his bare hands, screaming that both men would die.
"He just ripped me to ribbons. He chewed up my face. He plucked out my eyes. Basically, that's all there is to say about it," Poppo said.
According to a report by investigators, Poppo told police Eugene walked "out of blue" and said, "You're going to be my wife and this is going to be a Lover's Concerto." Eugene placed him in a headlock and dragged him along the sidewalk, Poppo told investigators.
Poppo recalled Eugene telling him that his Bible was stolen in Miami Beach and that Poppo was the one who took it. Poppo said he told Eugene he did not have anything, had not been to Miami Beach and "did not antagonize the offender in any way," the report said.
Eugene's family has said they can't explain his bizarre behavior. They described him as a mild-mannered and religious person who smoked marijuana.
Poppo, 65, remains in a long-term care facility after losing an eye, his eyebrows, his nose and parts of his forehead and right cheek in the May 26 attack. His other eye was severely damaged.
Doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center said last month that Poppo was in good spirits, talking and walking around, but would need several more surgeries before he could explore the options for reconstructing his face.
Eugene, 31, was shot and killed by a Miami police officer during the attack on the Macarthur Causeway just off downtown Miami. Lab tests found only marijuana in Eugene's system, but no other drugs or alcohol.
Poppo said Eugene had said something about not being able "to score," adding that Eugene "must have been souped up on something."
In the police interview, Poppo sometimes seems confused about some details of the attack. He described Eugene wearing a green shirt and getting out of a car, but surveillance video recorded from security cameras on The Miami Herald building showed a naked Eugene walking up to Poppo as cars and bicyclists zipped by. Poppo was reclining on the sidewalk near the parking garage where he lived.
Police asked Poppo whether he provoked Eugene.
"What could provoke an attack of that type?" Poppo said. "I didn't curse at the guy or say anything mean or nasty."
Poppo also thanked the police for saving his life, saying the officer who shot Eugene arrived in the nick of time. He also said he did not like how he was being portrayed in the news and did not want to speak to the media.
The investigation is ongoing, Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes said.