Skip to comments.Vigil being held for Christofi
Posted on 05/19/2004 5:02:08 PM PDT by peter the great
The family of Costas "Gus" Christofi will hold a public candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday on the steps of the courthouse on Main Street. The vigil is being held the night before a hearing in which the Hunderton ounty Prosecutor's Office is expected to announce whether it will seek to retry ex-NBA star Jayson Williams on reckless manslaughter charges stemming from Christofi's death at Williams' Alexandria estate. Williams, 36, was acquitted earlier this month of aggravated manslaughter in connection with Christofi's death. A mistrial was declared on a reckless manslaughter charge after jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous decision. Jurors said their final vote was 8-4 to acquit. Williams was found guilty of four lesser charges related to his role in lying to authorities and orchestrating a cover-up after fatally shooting Christofi on Feb 14, 2002. Williams had hired Christofi, a limousine driver, on Feb. 13. -Staff Report
Hope to see you guys out there, and just maybe we can make a difference.
This is tomorrow night and my first post.
|Jayson Williams got off with a good deal,Gus Christofi just got lost in the shuffle|
PATERSON, N.J. - Many times during his tumultuous existence, Costas (Gus) Christofi plunged deeper than the rocky bottom of the Great Falls, which rumbles downward not far from where he grew up.
He had his first brush with the law at 7. He was a heavy drinker by 10; he was on drugs by 13, with heroin being his poison of choice.
Finally, at the age of 50, Gus miraculously turned his life around - only to be shot down by a rich retired basketball star at the end of a long night of liquor and machismo.
For those who knew him, Gus Christofi is the forgotten man in the Jayson Williams saga. Month after month, as Williams' legal proceedings unfolded, Christofi, who was fatally shot Feb. 14, 2002 in the master bedroom of the ex-Net's mansion in rural western New Jersey, seemed to be an afterthought.
"He got lost - but I guess that was the point for the defense," says Joe Armstrong, 52, his best friend.
Adds aunt Dora Kontogiannis: "Gus should not be remembered as 'the limo driver shot by Jayson Williams,' but, rather, as someone who tried to make this world a better place."
Sometimes there were brief mentions of how Gus, 55, had traded in a world of drugs and crime for a world dedicated to sobriety and helping others. But there is much more to the story of the forgotten man.
The Christofi recovery is all the more inspiring because of the extent of his turnaround, the details of his painful journey from the depths of despair to the joys of his new life.
Costas Christofi was born Oct. 10, 1946 in Birgas Limassol, Cyprus, the youngest of three children. His parents, Maria and Chris, moved to Paterson when Gus was still a toddler.
Growing up on the mean streets of Silk City, Christofi wasted no time taking up with the wrong crowd. "He was very young and in the company of older kids," says his sister Andrea Adams, 59.
The "hoodlums," as Adams' father called them, offered Gus a dollar for his time. "A dollar was a lot of money then. Being that he was so small, they had him climb through a window," she says. "He'd open the door for them and then they robbed the place. Guess who got caught?"
To save him from being sent to reform school, Christofi's parents enrolled him in an expensive private academy in Oakland, N.J. When he ran away, he was sent to another facility, in Trenton.
When those experiments failed, Gus, now 11, was returned to the Paterson school system, where he was again assigned to the third grade, which he would never complete. Before long, though, he "graduated" to one of the juvenile facilities his parents had hoped to avoid.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family blossomed. Gus' parents moved to a nicer section of the city, where many of the neighbors were doctors and lawyers. After working in a Paterson diner, Gus' father opened his own place, The Broadway Lunch, working from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. His mother worked long hours there, too.
The pace of Gus' decline quickened when his parents divorced.
"He didn't want to live with his mother and her new boyfriend or with his father, who was Mr. Diner, working all the time," says nephew John Adams, one of Andrea's sons. "He wound up being a greaser, one of the boys with the leather jacket, a street kid."
He began making frequent trips into New York City to score drugs. Sometimes he slept in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Andrea Adams remembers "the ugly needle marks." Gus and his pals now held up gas stations; they broke into houses. Sometimes he'd steal cartons of cigarettes or packages of meat from the market.
After Adams and her husband gave Gus a bed, a Lincoln Continental and a job in the family restaurants, he stole from them.
"He robbed my house and he sold the car," she recalls. He would later sell off a second car, and then a third, each to pay for drug relapses. By the time he was in his 30s, Gus was so desperate he broke into Adams' three children's piggy banks. He stole her rolls of coins and full bottles of liquor.
For the next 15 years, Gus bounced between Adams' home in the Bridgewater area, his parents' house here and a collection of county jails and maximum-security state prisons.
Perhaps it was a sign of the good buried inside Gus that none of his crimes were violent. "He never hurt anyone, except himself," says Kontogiannis, principal at Tenafly High School.
But as Gus kept spiraling down, even Adams tired of his routine. Since he wouldn't get help, she sought advice. A counselor told her to stop enabling, so she cut her brother off. Homeless, Gus began sleeping in a used car lot in Plainfield, next to one of the family's restaurants. One especially wintery night he called his sister to say he was cold, hungry and ready to straighten out.
Ever the optimist, she gathered some cash and a big bag of clothes. "He sold all the clothes, he never bought the food he said he was going to buy and then he called me back asking for help," says Adams.
Finally, she called the police on her brother.
The year was 1994. Gus was middle-aged. He'd never held a job for more than several months. He didn't know it yet, but he was finally ready to turn his life around.
The stories are poignant, the ones that reveal how many lives Gus Christofi touched once he beat back the demons inside of him.
"He helped so many people," says his sister.
Armstrong adds that Gus never hid his past. "He took a real negative thing and made it a positive. He wanted to share his experiences with people," he says.
During an 18-month stay at Freedom House, a drug and alcohol residential rehab center, Christofi took a paying job at a computer accessories firm, receiving several promotions. He subsequently was hired as the rehab center's house manager.
Ready for the next step, Gus moved out, and shared half of a two-family house on Green St. in Washington Borough with Armstrong, another graduate of the program. "He was a very caring person," says Armstrong. "Gus would go out of his way to help anybody, for no motive, no reason. He always had a kind word, a smile and the ability to make people laugh. He was a wonderful example of what we can accomplish with hard work and encouragement."
Armstrong says Gus also was a big sports fan - baseball, basketball and football. He remembers they went to see the Nets play back in the late 1990s; perhaps Williams had been on the court that night. Testimony at Williams' trial indicated that the night he died, Gus had brought along a camera in hopes of getting a photo with the retired star and his Harlem Globetrotter guests.
Dean Gilton, 40, knew Gus from Freedom House and AA, where he frequently spoke at meetings. He took Gus' spot in the two-family after he was killed. "He told me he had become Americanized too quick when he came over from Greece. That was his downfall into his addictions," says Gilton. "Instead of working in the family business, which everybody did, he was running around the streets of Paterson."
Once he was clean, Gus would spend Sunday afternoons with Gilton. The two would go to a local park with their dogs - Gus had a mixed breed Lab named Macy and Gilton had a chihuahua named Luigi.
As the dogs ran free, the men sat at a picnic table near the stream and talked. "As time goes on, you start looking at your future and the time you wasted in your life - and what's left to live of it," Gilton says. "That's the way Gus looked at life. What did he have left to live, as opposed to what did he waste?"
Gus began saving money to buy a house. There was a woman in his life.
Kontogiannis says she savored the moment when he "came back to our family."
"We were very proud of Gus for turning his life around," she says. "I know that Gus would like to be remembered for how he lived - not by how he died. He was a very good person who tried to help others."
When Kontogiannis' husband died suddenly, Gus was there to help her grieve.
When Armstrong needed a liver transplant, Gus checked on him daily, driving his friend to the hospital or the doctor's office.
When Gus was driving down the highway and saw a motorist with a flat, he would pull over to help.
"At his viewing and at his funeral there were hundreds of people I didn't know, including lots of kids he helped clean up at Freedom House," says John Adams. He recalls being approached by many who said their relatives were still alive today only because of Gus.
"I met a girl at his viewing who couldn't stop crying. She told me she used to be a prostitute, she'd do anything for money, to buy heroin," he says. "Today, she has a bank account with $11,000 in it. She'd call Gus a thousand times in the middle of the night and Gus would go to her mom's house and sit with her when she wanted to get drugs."
Maria El Hadidi, 34, Andrea Adams' daughter, says that in his new life, Gus "really found something out about himself. He understood the importance of family and he was truly sorry for all the people that he had hurt."
Limo customer Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, retired CEO of Merck and now chairman of the board of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, N.Y., cleared his schedule to attend Gus' funeral.
"He had enormous knowledge, which he obviously had learned in his own rehabilitation, and wanted other people to benefit from that," Vagelos says. "He was trying to give back. He had gone through tremendous change in his life and was anxious to make up for all that by being extraordinarily nice to people."
Andrea Adams agrees. "When he was killed, he was clean for five years," she says.
"When he thought of where he was and where he came from, he didn't want to go back to that life. He wanted to better himself. And so he got a job driving. He loved it."
As she lowers her head, she wipes the tears from her eyes. "The rest is history."
Looks like Gus gave much more in his five good years then NBA star Williams ever will.
Sometimes when I read an obituary, between the lines it says this poor guy did not have much, not here. It sounds like Gus and his family had a lot of heart to bring him back from hell.
A tragic end.
Thanks for posting this, do you have an exact address of the courthouse, street, city, zip, so people can get directions from mapquest.
How did the Vigil go?
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