For the first time, Ronald Poppo can be heard describing the day a naked North Miami man attacked him and chewed off most of his face -- and then thanking police for saving his life.
“He just ripped me to ribbons," the 65-year-old calmly told police on interview recordings obtained by CBS Miami. "He chewed up my face. He plucked out my eyes... And basically that’s all there is to say about it.”
The horrific Memorial Day weekend mauling made international headlines and left Poppo blind, missing his nose, and covered in a patchwork of mangled flesh. Homeless in Miami for decades, he was lazing on the MacArthur Causeway's Downtown exit ramp May 26 when attacked by 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, who had stripped off his clothes as he walked over the causeway after spending the Saturday morning on Miami Beach.
Poppo said Eugene, whom he did not recall having ever met before, approached him on the sidewalk and was "chummy" before he "snapped," strangling him in "wrestling holds" and picking at Poppo's eyes.
“For a very short amount of time I thought he was a good guy,” Poppo said in the interview, which was conducted July 19. “But he just went and turned berserk. He apparently didn’t have a good day at the Beach and he -– he was coming back. And I guess he took it out -- took it out on me -- or something. I don’t know.”
The gruesome 18-minute attack, which was captured on surveillance video, ended when a Miami police officer shot and killed Eugene as he ripped at Poppo's face.
"What can provoke an attack of that type?" Poppo said. "I certainly didn't curse at the guy, or say anything mean or nasty to him."
Read the full transcript (STORY CONTINUES BELOW):
Eugene was widely speculated to have been on some form of synthetic drugs or suffering a drug-induced psychosis, but a toxicology report turned up only marijuana -- an unlikely culprit -- in his system. Experts have suggested that while the coroner's tests were thorough, laboratories haven't been able to keep up with the speed at which new synthetic formulations are hitting the streets.
Poppo indicated that he also thought Eugene was on drugs: "He was talking kind of funny talk for a while too...That I was gonna die. And he was gonna die. He must have been souped up on something. He -- he had some kind [of] desperate preoccupation of that type.”
At another point in the interview, Poppo said Eugene told him he didn't enjoy his morning on Miami Beach because "he said he wasn’t scoring there, or something. He went to the Beach to score, or something. He is in...kind of...flustered mode about it."
Several inconsistencies suggest Poppo may be slightly confused about the attack. He told police that Eugene exited a car before the attack and was wearing pants; video shows Eugene approach the off ramp on foot and completely naked, which was also confirmed by 911 callers. Later, he sourced "telepathy" while telling police he thought Eugene was a drug dealer.
The Miami Herald reports Poppo has reconnected with his sister Annette, who told CBS Miami in May her family had assumed he was dead.
“I asked [the social worker] if he wants to talk to me, and she said, ‘He talks about you all the time.’ I said, ‘Really?’ ” Antoinette Poppo told the Herald. “He asked me how the family was. He wants to know if I’m ever going to move to Florida. He said he’d like to see me. I would love to see him, but I have Parkinson’s.”
Poppo is covered by Medicare and Medicaid according to hospital officials, but there is no tally to date on the costs to treat his severe injuries nor an estimate for longterm care and occupational therapy. A fund set up to assist him through the hospital had raised $110,700 through mid-July.
“I thank the Miami Police Department for saving my life," the "extremely charming" patient told detectives before concluding the interview. "That’s about the best I could sum it up as. If they didn’t get there in a nick of time, I would’ve definitely been in worse shape. Possibly I’d be DOA."
HOW YOU CAN HELP: The Jackson Memorial Foundation has set up a fund to assist Ronald Poppo in his recovery, which experts in facial reconstruction have said will include lengthy treatment, staged reconstruction, and psychological care. Donations can be made by check or online at jmf.org.
WARNING: SLIDESHOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC PHOTOS: