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Road rage victim has always been a survivor, family says

Julia and Nathan Snyder on their wedding day in 1952.

Snyder family photo

Julia and Nathan Snyder on their wedding day in 1952.

ST. PETERSBURG — If Nathan Snyder cut off the motorcyclist, he didn't mean to.

The 83-year-old retiree, who was going to visit his sick wife, didn't realize the motorcyclist had followed him into the parking lot at Palms of Pasadena Hospital.

When Snyder opened his car door, the man started cursing and punching him, his blows so violent that Snyder said he thought he was about to be pummeled to death.

Synder knew he needed to act fast, he recalled this week from his hospital bed, where he is recuperating from injuries he suffered in the July 3 attack.

Woozy from blows to the head, Snyder reached for his 9mm semiautomatic handgun as the man began to drag him from his Hyundai, said Jacob Snyder, a 54-year-old lawyer who flew in from Philadelphia to be by his father's side.

Nathan Snyder fired a warning shot into the air. When that failed to deter his attacker, he shot the man in the arm, his son said.

Synder said he didn't want to take the life of his attacker, whom authorities later identified as George S. Hall, 64, of St. Pete Beach.

"I'm not a killer," said Snyder, a Holocaust survivor. "I've seen plenty of death. I was saved so many times during World War II."

Nathan Snyder's first brush with death came at age 15.

Ukrainian locals sympathetic to the Nazi cause rounded up all of the Jews in his small Romanian village. They herded them to the local courthouse and began to pull the men from the group.

Nathan Snyder's mother "had an intuition that something was wrong," said Jacob Snyder.

She told her son to get on the ground, and she covered him with her shawl.

She and two other women sat on him, as if he were a chair.

The men, including Nathan Snyder's father, were marched into the woods, where they were stabbed and bludgeoned to death.

"They massacred them like wild animals," Nathan Snyder said.

He later became a demolitions expert and mine sweeper for the Russian army after the country retook Romania from Nazi supporters in 1944.

"A lot of people lost their lives in the minefields," Snyder said. "I survived. I don't know why I survived."

Snyder abhorred communism, he said, and deserted from the Russian army in 1945.

He was smuggled out of Europe under a false name in 1950 and made his way to Israel.

There, in a refugee camp, he met his wife, Julia, who suffered her own tragedies in the war, including the deaths of her father and first husband at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. She also lost an infant to pneumonia and malnutrition.

The Snyders have been married 57 years and have two children, Jacob and Lydia.

"When they met each other and got married, it's like they each got a new lease on life," Lydia said.

The family came to America in 1958.

• • •

At first, the Snyder children didn't tell their mother about the road rage attack.

Julia, 86, was recuperating at the hospital after receiving a new pacemaker. She is also recovering from several hip fractures she suffered in May.

The couple retired to St. Petersburg in 1984 from Philadelphia, where Nathan ran a building maintenance and cleaning company.

Nathan is a war movie buff. Julia enjoys reading nonfiction.

They share a love of opera and classical music, though Nathan said he also likes the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones.

They have two cats, and Nathan carries bread, peanuts and cat food in his car to feed squirrels and local strays.

"His mission in life, other than taking care of his family, is to save animals," Jacob Snyder said. "He's worried about the animals he's been feeding, because they haven't been fed since Friday."

The road rage case remains under investigation, but sheriff's investigators say Nathan likely will not face any charges because he acted in self-defense.

Hall was arrested on a felony charge of burglary with battery on a person over age 65. He was released from the Pinellas County Jail on July 4 after posting $100,000 bond.

Nathan has a concealed weapons permit that expires next year, and he does not have a criminal record in Florida, public records show. He said he started carrying a gun during his late-night cleaning shifts in Philadelphia.

Hall also does not have a criminal history in Florida. He was treated at Palms of Pasadena for the gunshot wound, then arrested.

He did not return calls from a Times reporter, but his attorney, Roger Futerman, said his client was recovering from the gunshot wound to his upper arm.

"I look forward to speaking to the media at the appropriate time, but it's too early in the case to discuss details," Futerman said.

Lydia Snyder, a 53-year-old real estate agent in St. Petersburg, said the incident should serve as a warning to those who lose their temper on the road.

"Road raging can backfire even if the victim looks like an easy target."

Snyder suffered serious injuries, including hip fractures in the attack, said his son, Jacob.

"He was a survivor then, he's still a survivor today," Lydia said.

• • •

On Thursday, Lydia wheeled her mother into her father's hospital room for a visit.

"That's my life of love," Nathan said, beaming.

"The love of your life, you mean?" Julia replied as she reached out to touch his arm.

Julia is eager for her husband to get home. "I'm lonesome," she said. "I miss him."

Gingerly, she pushed herself up from her wheelchair, her daughter acting as a spotter, and stepped over to Nathan, seated in his own wheelchair.

She bent down and kissed him on the lips.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Road rage victim has always been a survivor, family says 07/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 12:25pm]
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