Jeffrey Babbitt (Photo: Handout)
NEW YORK (CBS) -- It came out of nowhere.
A man allegedly went on a rampage in Union Square on Wednesday afternoon that left a complete stranger critically hurt, reports CBS New York.
Jeffrey Babbitt, a 62-year-old retired train conductor, was walking through the crowd near tables set up with chess boards when the suspect in the attack - 31-year-old Lashawn Marten - shouted a racial comment before hitting Babbitt in the head.
"He said 'The next white person who walks by, I'm going to [expletive],'" one female witness told WCBS-TV. "His fist went in and the man's head bobbed and he hit the ground and you could hear his skull hitting the ground."
The man continued his rampage before demanding to see police officers.
"He stood there and hit two more people and asked for the police to come," Michael Benson said.
Marten, who is apparently homeless, was watching people play chess in the park and reportedly complained that nobody wanted to play chess with him prior to the attack, according to 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria.
Police are investigating the attack as a possible hate crime, according to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
"Obviously our Hate Crimes Task Force is involved in aspects of that case," Kelly said.
Witnesses said they were amazed at the brazen, public nature of the assault.
"This is such a crowded area. You'd expect it in a back alley, but there are so many people here. That's the strange part," Garrett Browning said.
Babbitt was taken to Bellevue Hospital. Family and friends said that he is in a coma and has been declared brain-dead, CBS New York reported.
"I don't believe that. I don't know why that happened. He is very nice," neighbor Igor Sapozhnikov said.
His 92-year-old mother, Hedda, was by his side. She shared a Sheepshead Bay apartment with her son.
He was her primary caregiver.
© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.