SAVED BY AN ‘ANGEL’
Cop pounced as gunman was about to kill me, says Queens smoke shop clerk
The off-duty cop who heroically subdued an enraged homeless man after he shot and killed a Queens smoke shop clerk is nothing short of an angel, the victim’s co-worker said Thursday.
Store clerk Henil Perakh, 32, said he was just milliseconds away from suffering his colleague’s fate Monday evening when quick-thinking cop Jason Maharaj sprang into action and wrestled a determined, vengeful gunman to the ground.
Police and witnesses said Steven Cohen had just shot Mohmediyan Tarwala at the store on Cross Bay Blvd. at Pitkin Ave. in Ozone Park and was turning to fire on Perakh when Maharaj thwarted his plan.
“Trust me, that guy was an angel for me,” Perakh said of the cop. “He really saved my life, first of all, because if he wasn’t there, I’d be dead too.”
Perakh said he was upset about Tarwala’s death, but knows the outcome could have been much worse.
“He was pointing at me,” said Perakh, who ducked down after Tarwala was shot. “He was trying to shoot me if I stood up. He was trying to come a little bit further to shoot me. But at that moment, the cop, he just jumped on him.”
The caught-on-camera shooting at 6:15 p.m. Monday was set in motion when Tarwala and his boss escorted Cohen out of the store.
Cohen, who lives out of his blue Honda Odyssey parked nearby, was there to buy lottery tickets, said cops and a store worker.
He was acting disorderly and was unwashed — he reeked, the cops and store workers said. Tarwala, known to friends and co-workers as Iyan, asked Cohen to wait outside, and Cohen was offended.
A few minutes later, Cohen returned with a gun, opened the door and began firing, Perakh said.
“He kept shooting,” Perakh said. “I don’t know how long he would have shot at us.”
Video of the incident shows Maharaj pushing Cohen outside the store and tackling him to the ground. Perakh ran outside after Cohen and the off-duty officer.
With Cohen on the ground, Maharaj instructed Perakh to take Cohen’s gun and stash it behind the store’s counter until reinforcements arrived.
Perakh did as he was asked — the video shows him running back into the store with Cohen’s gun.
Perakh said the off-duty cop also called 911 from his own phone, hoping to get a quicker response.
Perakh said he didn’t get to thank the heroic cop for his courage, and didn’t even know his name even though Maharaj is a regular customer.
“That cop, he did his best job because that guy could have killed him, too,” Perakh said. “But he was so fast. He just jumped on him without thinking anything of it.”
Perakh said Cohen started coming into the store after the city went on lockdown and regularly stole small items like water and soda.
“But we never minded it because it’s not worth it to fight just for a dollar’s worth of things,” Parakh said. “But we always gave him a warning.”
In recent weeks, Perakh said, Cohen became more unhinged.
“He was doing crazy, crazy things,” the clerk said.
Perakh said Tarwala was enrolled in a management course in Manhattan and working hard to send money back to his family in India. He said Tarwala also had a fiancée in Canada, and was on the phone with her when Cohen first walked in the store.
“I’ve never seen this guy fight with anybody,” Perakh said of his slain colleague. “This is the first one and the last one of his life.”
Queens clerk Henil Perakh said he was an instant away from being shot by gunman Steve Cohen when off-duty cop Jason Maharaj tackled him (above). Another worker was killed in the attack Monday.
Officer Jason Maharaj stops gunman identified as Steven Cohen from killing a Queens smoke shop clerk who had just seen his co-worker Mohmediyan Tarwala (inset) being shot to death. The gun (below) was recovered.