Crusty punk whose pit bull terrorized East Village is dead
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Natas, the crusty traveler whose aggressive pit bull, Jax, went on a bloody rampage in the East Village early last month — viciously attacking both a pug, which later died, and a man — has himself died, according to sources.
Jordy Trachtenberg lives in the same St. Mark’s Place building as Roberta Bayley, whose pug, Sidney, was attacked by Jax on Aug. 1 and died the next day at the vet after undergoing surgery. Trachtenberg told The Villager that on Thurs., Aug. 27, he saw a Facebook post at around 11 that morning by a young woman he knows who does outreach to the crusties and travelers.
“I am very sorry to say that Natas (David McKee) passed early this morning,” the woman wrote, in part.
In response to The Villager’s query, Julie Bolcer, a spokesperson for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, responded, “We are investigating the death of someone identified with the name you provided. The cause and manner of death are pending further studies at this time.”
The Police Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information did not have a record of David McKee’s death or an OD in Tompkins Square by him in August.
A few days after attacking Bayley’s pug, and just a few blocks away from there, Jax attacked Michael Puzzo, an East Village man who was walking his girlfriend’s dog, Bobito, on E. Sixth St.
In each of Jax’s attacks, Natas had been sleeping or passed out on substances, with the brown pit bull beside him, when the dog — reportedly unleashed each time — suddenly lunged for the smaller dogs. Puzzo managed to shield Bobito from Jax’s jaws, but got chomped on his arm.
Either that same day or the next, again in the same neck of the East Village, another local man, Ed Vassilev, was savagely bitten on the arm by a different crusty pit bull as he tried to protect his puppy, Misha, from being attacked. Vassilev was left with permanent nerve damage.
Trachtenberg provided a phone number for the outreach worker, Sally (not her real name), who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
Sally said she received word of Natas’s death from a worker in another local organization that does outreach and offers a needle-exchange service — providing fresh sharps to reduce the spread of infectious diseases between IV drug users.
Sally said she had seen Natas recently. He told her that he was trying to get Jax back from Animal Care and Control and that his plan was then to return to New Jersey, where he is originally from. In an effort to notify his family of his death, she left a message for Natas’s sister, but has not heard back.
“He wanted to get out of the city and take his dog out of the city,” she said.
Sally said she didn’t know a lot about Natas, whose street name was Satan spelled backwards. His Facebook page offers a few details about him. It says he attended Rutgers University and was in the class of 2000 at Pennsauken High School, which would have made him around age 33. His hometown is listed as Delair, N.J., and his current residence as Blackwood, N.J. His page’s “About” section features one statement: “what is there to say. all who know me know im highly unstable”; and one quote, attributed to “deadly dee”: “until my black heart ceases to beat in my cold dead chest, i will seek retribution or my soul will not rest.” His posts over the years alternated between laments about the state of man — and his own state — musings on death, and — befitting his devilish nickname — quotes in Latin about Satan and Lucifer. In one post, in English, he reassured that people would have nothing to worry about if he returned as the antichrist.
“I don’t know if he was using when he died,” Sally said. “That’s what people just assume — us, too. I had only really just come across him in the last couple of months. I had just seen him two days before he died. He said they told him they couldn’t give his dog back to him unless he had New York State ID.”
Sally considered helping him get Jax back, but said Natas hadn’t asked her directly, and that she wasn’t sure if she would do it.
“If he was going to be leaving with the dog, I thought about it,” she said. “I don’t want his dog put down. Dogs are a very touchy issue, particularly with this crowd.”
Basically, the travelers are very close to their dogs, most of which are “well trained,” she said. Obviously, Jax was not, though, and was extremely aggressive.
As for Natas, she said, he wasn’t a fake crusty traveler — or fauxbo, as they call them in New Orleans.
“He had a very difficult childhood,” she said. “Beyond popular belief, he was not a rich trust-fund kid. He was just a homeless kid.”
As to whether he died due to heroin, alcohol or a combination of them or mixed with other drugs, that will be determined by the medical examiner’s autopsy. Sally said Natas, in fact, may have been trying to get clean.
“He had a bad laceration on his forehead, from falling during a seizure,” she said. “That could have been alcohol related, or he could have had a condition. Some of these kids do have conditions, but this often happens with alcohol withdrawal. Heroin and cocaine are awful to come off of — but alcohol is actually physically dangerous to come off of. I know he was saying he was trying to get clean and get off the streets. I know he did use [heroin and alcohol] at some point. I don’t know if he was using at the time he died.”
The travelers will soon be leaving the city once the weather turns cool, heading for warmer climes in New Orleans and elsewhere.
“Around September, they’ll start leaving, to get settled for the winter,” Sally said. However, she added, now with global warming, they’ll probably be hanging around here a bit longer.
Many of them are already up in Maine now picking blueberries, she said.
In fact, there were fewer crusty travelers around the East Village this summer, just as there have been in recent summers, according to her. The travelers have spread out to Brooklyn or even further Uptown in Manhattan, which actually makes it more dangerous for them, she said.
“Now, I literally spend half a day walking around looking for people,” the outreach worker noted.
For example, the travelers no longer camp out in front of St. Mark’s Church, at Second Ave. and E. 10th St., after crusties there three years ago smeared graffiti in white paint all over the front of the historic house of worship.
“That ruined it for everyone,” she said. “Most of them don’t hang out here anymore. They don’t feel wanted or welcome.”
She can relate to that feeling, since she herself was formerly one of the homeless youth, but managed to pull her life together.
“As someone who’s been homeless before, I’ve never felt such hatred as when I was homeless,” she said. “People urinating on me, pouring alcohol on me, trying to set me on fire, masturbating on me while I’m asleep.
“The homeless are easy victims — people take their frustrations out on them.”
She said this kind of abuse can partly explain why some crusties are obnoxious and yell at people on the street.
Her organization has a client base of 300 mostly young crusties and travelers — only about 100 of whom pass through New York City each year. Last year, there were 32 deaths among this group, mostly from heroin OD’s, along with Hepatitis C, liver failure, alcohol and opiates.
Mon., Aug. 31, was actually Overdose Awareness Day, she noted.
Having found out about Natas’s death from Trachtenberg, Bayley, a famed punk rock photographer, said the whole experience has left her “very sad.”
“I wouldn’t wish death on anybody. It’s an irresponsible person, not an evil person,” she said of Natas. “The owner fell asleep — it wasn’t intentional. I wish the dog possibly could be put down or taken away. I think it’s a very dangerous dog, so I hope it’s taken off the street.”
Recovering from Sidney’s death hasn’t been easy.
“I’m doing acupuncture and getting therapy. It’s just awful, it’s a big hole in my life,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll stay this way forever. I just hope some good can come from Sidney’s death, and I think it has, in terms of raising awareness. But you have to keep the awareness up. I think I’m going to do some activism about it at the City Council.”
She’s also down on the crusty travelers now, who often use their dogs as money magnets when panhandling.
“We have enough real homeless,” she said, “that I don’t think we need kids thinking it’s cool to live on the street, take heroin and have a dog. Just go home. Sorry if I sound like an old fogy, but that’s how I feel.”
As for Trachtenberg, in addition to feeling furious about what happened to Bayley’s dog, he said he’s tired of the crusties hunkering down in front of their building, which they like to do since it’s right next to a 2 Bros. $1 pizzeria.
“This is a super-sad ending to a super-sad story, but it is an ending,” he said. “There are no winners here or really anything to learn from this jackass’s death. Maybe there’s some closure here, but I’m not even sure about that.”
There are three types of crusties, in his experience: locals, travelers and ones who just come in from Jersey or the suburbs for the summer and wind up spiraling down while “living in the dirt.”
“These kids don’t take care of themselves and really don’t have the ability to take care of a dog,” he said. “They s— and piss on our building’s front door. They are very agro ‘spanging’ for cash. They are loud and don’t care who they disturb. Trust me, all of this will come out when a crusty kid’s dog attacks a child. It’s just a matter of time. I’ve seen many close calls.”
In related news, concerns are growing about a homeless encampment around P.S. 63 and McKinley Playground, on E. Third St. between First Ave. and Avenue A.
Garrett Rosso, the manager of the Tompkins Square Park dog run, said “a whole mélange of homeless kids” are camping out there, as well as a family that sleeps on a mattress, plus travelers during the summer.
“Debris and human excrement surround the park’s vegetation at McKinley Playground and line the steps of P.S. 63 elementary school,” he said. “Meanwhile, three off-leash pit bulls rummage around the playground while their owners sleep in the park. It was so bad last year that the school had to cancel fire drills because of the number of campers and debris outside the school. Now the campers have moved into the park playground.
“The school’s playground is jointly operated with the Parks Department,” Rosso noted. “Who is empowered to clean this park, as well as the two elongated sidewalk bridges in front and behind the school? The sidewalk bridges for school construction have been filled with campers, off-leash dogs and debris for the past year, which is hazardous to pedestrians and students.”
The school grounds and park need to be cleaned, not periodically, but every single day, he stressed.