Choke Finds a Fan
It was only a matter of
time before somebody tried to
pull the scam described in Chuck
Choking Man may be
Charlotte Sun-Herald Website
When Denise Tucker performed
the Heimlich maneuver on a man who appeared to
be choking Monday morning, she thought she was
saving a life.
Instead, Tucker was an
unwitting participant in a bizarre performance
that was acted out at least three more times
that day and once in February.
Tucker's encounter inspired
several other people to call the Sun and report
their own experiences. What emerges is a picture
of an apparently life-threatening scenario
repeated over and over in a ritualistic fashion.
It may even be derived from a novel.
The story of "Choking Man"
sounds like an urban legend, but it's not. In
each case, the act itself and the actor's
description are the same. Only the details and
the "leading lady" change, because all those who
have come to his aid have been women.
Choking Man is white,
middle-aged and "stocky," around 5 feet 5 inches
tall and 200-250 pounds. He has short brown hair
with a bald spot and a small moustache.
Sometimes he wears glasses and a wedding band.
One woman described his complexion as
Choking Man drives a very
dark-colored, small Ford or Chevy pickup truck.
One woman said it had stepsides. On Monday, he
was wearing a light blue dress shirt and navy
Although he hasn't harmed
anyone yet, Choking Man's act is no joke. It
sent one of his rescuers to the
About 45 minutes before
Tucker "rescued" Choking Man outside
Pulsafeeder, he performed the same act at the
County Line Market, 285 Duncan Road, east of
Around 8:15 a.m. Monday,
"This man walked in holding one hand over his
mouth, the other one over his stomach, like he
was trying to vomit," said Alice "Sissy"
Castillo, a clerk at the store.
The man entered the men's
bathroom without closing the door completely,
and Castillo didn't hear any retching noises.
After a few minutes, she became
"Then he walked out of the
bath room with his hand balled up, like he
wanted me to pound on his back," Castillo
recalled. "He looked like he was choking on
something, but when I tried to call 9-1-1, he
jerked the phone out of my hand."
The stranger backed into
Castillo and wrapped her arms around his
midsection. "He had me push on his stomach
twice, and dry bread flew out of his mouth,"
The stranger was
"He said, 'Oh thank you, you
saved my life!' He was hugging me and kissing
me," Castillo continued. "Then he said, 'I left
my truck running,' so I went out and turned the
vehicle off," forgetting that the cash register
was unguarded. On the truck seat, she saw a bag
of sliced bread.
When Castillo came back, "He
was shaking so bad I got him a chair and sat him
down. He said he was a businessman from Bartow
headed to Fort Myers for a 9:30 meeting. I asked
if there was anybody I could call for him, but
he said 'No no no, my wife would freak out.'
In spite of that, the man did
appear to call his wife on a cell phone shortly
after Castillo gave him a bottle of water, which
she paid for. When Castillo left work around
2:30 p.m., "My drawer was matched to the penny,
But on the drive home, she
began to feel like she was having a heart
attack. She checked into DeSoto Memorial
Hospital, where doctors diagnosed an acute
anxiety attack, and kept her
Shortly after Tucker's
incident, Danielle Lussier, a radiology student
at Edison Community College, came upon a man of
the same description getting out of his truck at
a stop sign in the campus parking
"His face didn't look purple,
like he was choking, but it looked red," Lussier
The scenario repeated itself.
When Lussier started to perform the Heimlich
maneuver, "He grabbed one of my hands and pulled
it to his stomach area." After three tries, the
man ejected a piece of bread.
Afterward, the man, crying,
told Lussier she had saved his life. Then he
began to get personal.
"He was giving me a big old
bear hug," Lussier recalled. "He brought out
pictures of his wife and daughter," like he did
with Tucker. He told Lussier that the bread was
specially made for people on the Atkins diet,
because "his wife was on him about his weight,"
even showing her the bread.
Choking Man gave his name as
Larry or Lawrence and said he plays guitar in
his church band. "He wanted to know who I was
and where I was from," Lussier said. "He said he
wanted to thank my pastor."
They were alone for five
minutes, Lussier said. The man so earned her
trust that when he asked for her phone number,
Lussier gave it to him.
Told of the other incidents,
Lussier said, "I knew something was weird." She
also told of a similar choking incident in the
school cafeteria later that day, but that could
not be confirmed.
Choking Man appears to have
first struck on Feb. 10, outside The Dog House,
a small pet-grooming business on East Marion
Avenue in Punta Gorda. East of Marlympia Way,
the avenue is quiet and
Around 9 a.m., Jackie Roman
noticed a small, dark-colored pickup stopped in
front of her sister-in-law, Rose Harper's,
business, blocking westbound traffic. "As I went
around truck I noticed the driver either
sneezing violently or coughing," Roman
The man pulled into the
driveway, got out of his truck and "was walking
around throwing his hands in the air, looking
wild-eyed," Roman recalled. "He didn't seem like
he was really choking to me. He wasn't purple or
blue, just very red-faced."
When a waiting customer tried
the Heimlich but failed, Roman yelled at Harper
to call 9-1-1.
"I used to work in an
ambulance service in Michigan and the Heimlich
came back to me," Roman said. This time, the man
ejected a piece of celery.
The man, who gave his name as
Mark, didn't want 9-1-1 summoned. "He said he
was on the way to college and sat for about
10-15 minutes," then went on his way, Roman
Choking Man's motive remains
obscure, but it may be related to "Choke," a
novel by Chuck Palahniuk, author of "Fight
Club." The main character of "Choke"
stages choking incidents in restaurants hoping
that the people who "save" him will feel
responsible for him and support him.
Or he may be mentally
"It sounds like factitious
disorder," said Dr. Katina Matthews-Ferrari,
medical director of Charlotte Community Mental
Health Services Inc. The Diagnostic Service
Manual defines the disorder as "intentional
production or feigning of physical or
psychological signs and symptoms," to assume the
The incentives can be
economic gain, as in Palahniuk's novel, avoiding
legal responsibilities, getting health care or
fulfilling an emotional need.
Addressing Choking Man,
Matthews-Ferrari said, "If you're reading this,
get professional help."
Detective Ritchhart with the
Charlotte County Sheriff's Office would like to
hear any other stories about Choking Man.
Contact him at (941) 575-5210.
You can e-mail Malcolm
Brenner at firstname.lastname@example.org