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September 16, 2016

Wawa brawl suspect: We are the real victims

Barbara Bayona and son were arrested after a convenience store melee went viral; she says it's a hate crime

Courts Riots
torresdale wawa brawlers Mugshots/Philadelphia Police Department

Jonathan Rodriguez and Barbara Bayona were charged with inciting a riot and other offenses for an incident at a Wawa in Tacony on July 29, 2016.

Barbara Bayona is mad as hell, and despite her attorney’s strenuous objections, she wanted to tell PhillyVoice why.

So, in the hallway outside a courtroom where a judge rejected a plea to lower her son’s bail in connection with the Wawa brawl that went viral, we listened.

Friday was supposed to be the day she and her son Jonathan Rodriguez faced a preliminary hearing stemming from the July 29 ransacking melee inside the Wawa store at 6400 Torresdale Ave. in Tacony.

Though several witnesses – and a video of the chaotic scene – reported to Supervising Judge Frank T. Brady’s Philadelphia Treatment Court on the 10th floor of the Criminal Justice Center, the hearing was pushed back to Oct. 7.

Assistant District Attorney Lauren Stram requested the delay on account of an important witness not being there.

Brady honored that request after presiding over the preliminary hearing for a Northeast Philadelphia woman who, among many things, allegedly grabbed a woman by the hair and drove 30 feet before kicking one police sergeant in the groin and attempting to kiss another officer.

Once those proceedings ended around 10 a.m., Rodriguez’s attorney Andre Martino asked Brady to further reduce Rodriguez’s bail, which had been previously dropped to 10 percent of $21,000 in connection with the brawl and an ongoing burglary case also involving him and his mother.

"The girl (who works at Wawa) said, ‘Get your gay ass out of here and don’t come back.’" – Barbara Bayona, suspect in Wawa brawl

Bayona had managed to scrape together the $1,000 she needed for her freedom after an Aug. 23 hearing, but couldn’t afford the funds to spring her son. He’s been in custody since surrendering to authorities in early August.

Both are charged with inciting a riot (intent to commit a felony), conspiracy, criminal mischief, terroristic threats with intent to terrorize another, recklessly endangering another person, disorderly conduct and harassment. They were free on bail in another pending case at the time of the brawl.

As she did at that previous hearing, where she cast  Bayona and Rodriguez as a mother/son crime-wave syndicate, Stram vehemently objected to lowering the son's bail.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve committed crimes together,” Stram maintained.

Martino’s argument – that his client “is in a wheelchair in prison” after recently having been diagnosed with lupus – didn’t move Brady, who took little time to deny that request.

That brings us back to Bayona’s anger. 

While Martino declined comment after the hearing, and Bayona’s attorney William Ciancaglini told his client and a reporter that he advised against talking, she briefly explained her version of events.

In short, her son was the victim in that Wawa that night, she said.

“It started as a hate crime. The girl (who works at Wawa) said, ‘Get your gay ass out of here and don’t come back.’ So, he went home and got me and said, ‘This is what she told me,’” Bayona recalled. “When the video picks up, you can see me saying I want to talk to the manager. They just picked up the phone and called the police, so my son started throwing stuff just to make a point.”

Making a point devolved into a melee in which the store was ransacked, to the tune of $700 in damages, and another customer, Shawn Nichol, intervened, only to get roughed up a little. The scene was captured by another customer, who posted video on Facebook, thus beckoning a social-media onslaught.

Nichol previously told PhillyVoice that he'd received threats after reporting the incident, and Strum noted at an earlier hearing that, “Two Hispanic females returned to the store asking for specific employees by name. They’re so affected by it that police officers do safety checks at that Wawa location.”

On Friday, Bayona said she wants her story to get the viral legs that the video did. In fact, about an hour after the hearing, she told PhillyVoice that she’s going to try to make that happen on her own Friday afternoon.

“I’m very upset. This is a hate crime, and racism against dark people. (My son) is in jail, in a wheelchair, because of it,” she said. “I can talk to him, but I can’t see him. I would love to see him. He’s fighting lupus, and I don’t have the money to get him out right now.”

That won’t happen until the preliminary hearing in three weeks. In the meantime, Bayona said she is suffering.

“I’m getting no sleep, no nothing, since I got out. It’s horrible,” she said. “I hope what I’m telling you goes as viral as the video.”