Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 21, 2013

Stabbed tattoo artist recalls details of fight

By Jessica Farrish
For the Daily Telegraph

A Beckley tattoo artist and business owner, called a hero for his role in breaking up a domestic altercation, was recovering Sunday at Raleigh General Hospital from stab wounds he’d received Friday.

James Tate Jr., 34, credits his employee, body piercer Jonathan “D” Demello, with saving his life.

Tate received three units of plasma and two units of blood due to blood loss, he reported as well as 84 staples to close the wounds.

“I’m sore, but I’m doing good,” said Tate. “The wounds wasn’t as bad as the blood loss.”

The 6’6” Tate was attacked around 6 p.m. Saturday when Michael Dale Wafford, 38, of Eccles, allegedly walked into Beckley Plaza and began fighting with a pregnant woman identified by witnesses as Wafford’s ex-girlfriend, according to officials.

Tate, the owner of Awesome Ink tattoo parlor, was in his shop inside the mall when he heard a commotion at neighboring Harvey’s, a bridal shop and hair salon. The mall owners were on a cruise, Tate said.

“When they’re not there, somebody has to watch out for the girls over at the hair salon and dress shop,” said Tate. “I was sitting in my shop, I heard screaming and yelling.”

Tate’s assistant told him that a guy was “grabbing” at a woman at the business.

“I said, ‘Let’s see if we can’t calm it down and get him out of here,” recalled Tate. “He was calling her everything but a nice person.”

The girl told Tate that Wafford had “put his hands on her” during the altercation, said Tate.

“I said, ‘Man, you’ve got to go,’” said Tate. “I lied to him and told him I was the manager, and he couldn’t be there.”

Wafford allowed Tate to escort him out of the mall, Tate reported. But once on the sidewalk, Wafford became combative, Tate said.

According to Tate, Wafford said, “I’m on public property, and you can’t do anything.”

“He’s walking back and forth, telling me, ‘You can’t stop me,’” recalled Tate. “I said, ‘No, you need to leave.’”

Tate said that one of the girls from Harvey’s called out, “We called the cops!”

“I was expecting any moment the police would show up, so I didn’t expect it to go as far as it did,” said Tate. “(Wafford) kept yelling stuff back at us, yelling stuff at her.”

Tate said that Wafford backed up as Tate advanced, then turned to “stop and cuss me, tell me what he was going to do to me.”

A former bar bouncer, Tate wasn’t particularly concerned at that point, he said. “I’ve dealt with some irate people before,” he said. “Most people will talk and not do anything.”

Wanting Wafford to leave the lot for the safety of the ex-girlfriend, Tate said, he slowly advanced towards Wafford.

“I figured any minute, the cops are going to be here,” he said. “I’m like (to Wafford), ‘You’ve got to go.’

“He got up and spit in my face, and I pushed him. That’s the only time I laid my hands on him.”

Tate said that’s when Wafford “pulled the knife,” although Tate didn’t yet know it.

“I was asking him, ‘What are you going to do?’” recalled Tate. “He tried to knee me, I blocked it, then he slashed me.”

Tate said the knife was “one of those talon blades that comes out and curves forward. I didn’t realize he’d cut me,” said Tate. “It was so fast, and so sharp, it didn’t hurt.”

The first cut slashed from Tate’s side, through his biceps and across his chest, he said.

“I’m unarmed,” said Tate. “I had nothing.”

According to Tate, he began kicking Wafford in the side to make him step away. Tate said his own shoe came off, and Wafford raised the knife again.

“When he came at me with that knife, I blocked it with the shoe,” he said. “I tried to smack the knife (away from him) but it had a finger ring, and I couldn’t get it off his hand.”

Wafford moved in closer and slashed Tate a second time, Tate said.

“I grabbed his hands and we started fighting over the knife,” said Tate. “He’s twisting it, and he’s twisting it, trying to push it into my neck.

“That’s when I saw the blood.”

At that point, Tate said, he felt he was in “a fight for my life.”

“He’d already slashed me. If I turned my back, he’d slash me,” said Tate. “If I let go of him, he’ll keep stabbing me.”

As Tate continued to fight and shoved Wafford, Wafford stopped fighting and started to run, said Tate.

He was arrested by Beckley Police officers who had set up a seatbelt checkpoint not too far away on Pinewood Drive as part of the Click-it or Ticket kick-off. As Wafford left the lot, Tate turned to make his way back to his tattoo shop.

“I realized I was bleeding a lot,” he said. “My only thought was, ‘If I can get back to the shop, my body piercer Jon (Demello) can help me.”

Demello, a former combat medic, came outside just then.

“I had my hand over my deepest wound, and the blood was just running. I was thinking, ‘Jon can save me, Jon can save me,’” he recalled. “’I gotta get to that door. I don’t wanna die.’”

He forced himself to walk slowly towards Demello, so that he could keep his heart rate low and minimize blood loss.

Demello began yelling, asking for gauze or sanitary items.

“A girl pulled out a pad,” said Tate. “And he put it on the wound and held it there until the ambulance showed up.”

“I felt the Lord’s presence in the ambulance,” said Tate, who is of the Jewish faith.

Although his body temperature had started to drop, Tate said he was able to call his wife to let her know what had happened.

“When I got to the hospital, after they got me stitched up, the ER surgeon came up there and said, ‘Who packed your wounds for you?’” recalled Tate. “I said, ‘My buddy, Jon.’

“He said, ‘I think he saved your life.’”

Although the wounds weren’t life-threatening, the blood loss was serious, according to Tate, who said he’s working now on keeping away an infection.

He said his rabbi at Temple Beth El and the synagogue community have been supportive of him as he recovers.

“I have always taken up for others, and I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” Tate said. “It’s what the Torah teaches us.

“If there’s a hero, it’s my buddy, Jon.”

Wafford has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, malicious wounding and domestic assault.

He remains lodged at Southern Regional Jail on $25,000 bond.