WILKES-BARRE — Polite, respectful, funny, caring, always willing to help somebody out — all words and phrases people at a benefit Sunday for Anthony Gipson at Bart & Urby’s used to describe the bar and restaurant’s 21-year-old cook.
That’s why they can’t understand why Gipson, of Wilkes-Barre, was viciously assaulted during what police are calling a fight near Joe K’s Brewhouse, about a block from Bart & Urby’s along South Main Street, when he was heading home from work last month.
But even his close friends were surprised by the turnout only an hour into the fundraiser, dubbed “The Big A-Thon,” which started at 3 p.m. Sunday at Bart & Urby’s.
Seats at the bar and every table were filled by 4 p.m., as patrons helped themselves to free food on a buffet and menu items they bought as they listened to Richard Janoff sing and play guitar.
“It’s a really good turnout, more than what I expected,” said Cody Izzo, 23, of Wilkes-Barre. He designed and distributed T-shirts depicting a “peace” hand signal and a Twitter hashtag: #StopTheViolence570.
Izzo said he has been friends with Gipson since they were on the wrestling team together in seventh grade at Meyers High School. He said he stops in to see Gispon, who has returned home after a weeks-long hospital stay, every day, and he “looks a lot better, a lot healthier.”
Gipson has undergone several surgeries to repair critical injuries to his head and face, city police said in an affidavit for Friday’s arrest of Michael Anthony Mackey Jr., 28, of Peckville, who was charged in the alleged attack.
What prompted the encounter between Gipson and Mackey remains unclear. One witness told police Mackey believed Gipson had hit a woman, but court documents reveal that a bleeding Mackey later told an off-duty corrections officer he met at Walmart that the fight was prompted by Gipson calling women names.
Witnesses told police the fight began at Joe K’s Brewhouse, 41 S. Main St. Police said security footage shows Mackey being restrained by bar security guards, two of whom told investigators that “Mackey was in a rage when he went after Anthony Gipson, as he believed Gipson struck a female,” the affidavit says.
Mackey caught up with Gipson and knocked him out, but then “Mackey kept beating the kid, even after he was out,” police said a witness told them.
Gipson stopped in the bar on Sunday but didn’t want to speak with reporters.
Tom Merolla, of the Miners Mills section of Wilkes-Barre, said he and his wife, Janet, are usually at Bart & Urby’s every Sunday but were especially sure not to miss the benefit.
“We got to know Anthony from being here every week. He’s a nice young man, very polite to us, very respectful,” Tom Merolla said.
Janet Merolla said her daughter is friends with Gipson and told her mother she “can’t imagine Anthony ever being disrespectful to a girl; it’s just not him.”
Krystine Patterson, 22, of Wilkes-Barre, described Gipson as “funny, outgoing, always trying to entertain people, and … my best friend.”
Joseph Rosser, head chef at Bart & Urby’s, said there were “a lot of food donations” and donations of raffle baskets. “The entire community reached out. I feel like we could feed two armies.”
Sean Burke, another organizer, said that the benefit should “help out a lot,” given the turnout and $10 donations collected at the door.
Zayre Mountain, Y.M.I. Duo, Gene Burke, Harlot, Old Breaker, Those Clever Boxes, DJ Pen Pal, DJ Newpy Hundo, DJ Big McJunior and Dub City Scums all provided free entertainment. Proceeds from basket raffles also will go to benefit Gipson.