LAKELAND, Fla. - A bay area electrical lineman who got attacked while helping restore power in the storm-ravaged area of New York will likely need surgery to repair his face.
John Applewhite was wrapping up a long day Friday with his 24-member crew from Lakeland Electric, when they pulled into a restaurant for a much needed dinner break.
That's when a stranger drove up, yelled something, and took a swing at John.
"Just as I got about am arm's length from him, he popped me," he said from his hospital bed in Lakeland. "I don't know if he had anything in his hands. It seems like he did. He did quite a bit of damage."
It was just a single punch, but a solid one, to say the least. John suffered a broken jaw bone, cheek bone, and several other fractured bones in his face.
A picture taken shortly after the incident shows John's face badly swollen.
He says he still has no idea why he was attacked. He says he understands the people are on edge -- some have been without power for up to two weeks, but it's no excuse for violence.
"It just kind of hit us by surprise, really," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to be robbed or if he was just upset. He was in a nice vehicle, so I kind of let my guard down a little bit. It's unfortunate. It really is."
Right after the incident, the attacker drove off in his car. Police on Long Island are still searching for him.
One of John's colleague called his father, Morris Applewhite, back in Lakeland to tell him the news.
"Of course my heart went thumpity-thump, and I thought 'oh boy,' this may be it," Morris said.
Naturally, with a son who works as a electrical lineman, his first thought was that John was electrocuted, not punched in the face.
Morris was relieved, but still stunned.
"Thank God he didn't get stabbed," Morris said. "The guy could have just as easily stabbed him or shot him, and grabbed his wallet and took off."
Despite this unfortunate encounter, John says it doesn't change his impression of the town.
Many families brought out food and water to the crews. One even made a snowman with a heartfelt thank you.
But if the Applewhites ever stumble upon this mystery man, look out.
"I'd probably sucker punch him, just like he did my son," Morris said. "That's exactly what I'd do."
John has a different idea.
"It was one heck of a punch. If nothing else, I would like to shake the guy's hand. He got a heck of a jab," he said.