GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Witnesses say a man who was fatally stabbed at a Grand Rapids pizzeria Wednesday night was trying to calm down his assailant before the attack.
Family members on Thursday identified the victim as Joey Vitale, who leaves behind two young girls and a wife. His father is Frank Vitale, co-owner of Franky V’s Pizzeria and Sports Bar at 1420 28th Street SW in Wyoming.
A witness identified the stabber as and sources confirmed the suspect is Tony Devern Streets, 33. Online records show Streets was booked into the Kent County jail Wednesday night, though they don’t list the precise charges he faces.
The Grand Rapids Police Department says a homicide charge has not yet been filed because its investigation is ongoing.
“THINGS JUST WENT LEFT”
Officers say the attacker came into Burton Heights Pizza around 7:45 p.m. and began to cause a disturbance. Pizzeria employee Scottie Bader said the man appeared to be under the influence of something and was harassing people. Vitale tried to calm down him down, but the man started yelling and then stabbed Vitale twice.
“Everything was good, you know. His funny self, always laughing and cracking jokes and just things went left,” Bader said. “Everything was under control until that happened.”
A witness told 24 Hour News 8 that prior to the attack, Vitale acknowledged he knew the man, but it’s unclear how. Employees think the stabbing was random.
Vitale tried to drive from the restaurant at 315 Burton St. SW to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s for help. Witnesses say someone tried to hop into the car with him, but he took off.
“Everything happened so fast. We did not know what to do at the time,” Bader said.
Vitale’s car ultimately crashed on Wealthy Street near LaGrave Avenue SE, not far from the hospital. A nearby officer came to his aid before he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He died overnight as a result of the stabbing, authorities say.
After the attack, police say, the suspect ran from the restaurant and tried to steal a car. Police K-9s were called in and officers took the suspect into custody. Detectives say they also found evidence from the homicide in the area.
Michigan Department of Corrections records show Streets has served prison time for malicious destruction of fire or police property, two separate instances of assault with a dangerous weapon, and a weapons charge. He was discharged from the MDOC system in November 2016.
VITALE REMEMBERED AS KIND, SELFLESS
Burton Heights Pizza was closed Thursday as Vitale’s co-workers and friends mourned his death.
“I was absolutely shocked saddened and heartbroken,” longtime customer Rob Hartung. “That man was an outstanding young man in this community. He helped everybody.”
He said Vitale was dedicated to his job and well-known for his kindness, sometimes feeding people even if they couldn’t pay. In one case, he heard of a neighbor having blood sugar trouble and jumped in to help.
“The instant that Joey found out about it, he made a great big sub sandwich and rushed it over to the man so he didn’t go into a diabetic coma,” Hartung said. “That’s the kind of person Joey was.”
He also loved his daughters.
“He was an excellent dad,” Hartung said. “He talked about his two little girls all the time. I met the one time and he told them, ‘This is Rob, but don’t call him Rob. I want you to call him Uncle Rob.’ So whenever I saw them they would call me Uncle Rob.”
A vigil was held outside the pizzeria Thursday evening. Dozens of people packed the parking lot, lighting candles in Vitale’s honor.
Kyle Kelley was among them. He said he had known Vitale since he was 13.
“His personality,” he said when asked what he would remember about his friend. “It was contagious. And I don’t remember a time of when I could ever thing of him as selfish even though he’d come from a background that’s really prominent.”
Mekia Liptrot said she grew up with Vitale in the Burton Heights neighborhood.
“Their family is very important to us because there were times when our mother and our father couldn’t afford to feed us and Frank (Joey Vitale’s father) would actually give us free pizza,” Liptrot remembered.
She said the people at the pizzeria are like family. Joey Vitale, she said, personalized every order.
“He’s a good guy. He didn’t deserve this,” Bader, the pizzeria worker, said of Vitale. “Everyone’s out here for Joey. He’s watching over us.”
—24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker and Marvis Herring contributed to this report.