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Cops arrest Jamaica man in killing of Astoria bouncer

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A Jamaica man was charged with the murder of a bouncer from Astoria who was stabbed at a Manhattan bar after confronting patrons for violating the city's smoking ban, police said.

Isaias Umali, 31, of 89-04 171st St., was arraigned Friday in Manhattan Criminal Court on second-degree murder charges by Judge Deborah Kaplan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

Umali's arrest came on the same day mourners filled the Humble Way Church of God in Christ in South Ozone Park to remember Dana Blake, 32, a lifelong resident of the Astoria Houses affectionately nicknamed "Shazam" and known as a gentle giant.

The Manhattan district attorney's decision last week not to press charges against three siblings originally arrested in the case had sparked an outcry among Blake's family and friends, who stressed he died enforcing the city's recently imposed ban on smoking.

But by Friday the DA's delay proved warranted when Umali - who tried to kill himself the day after the slaying - emerged as the sole person charged in the murder.

Umali had been celebrating a friend's birthday at Guernica, a lounge on Manhattan's Lower East Side, early the morning of April 13 when Blake approached the group around 2:30 a.m. to ask that a cigarette be put out, said George Brown, the Police Department's chief of detectives.

But when a rude response prompted Blake to eject Umali's friend Jonathan Chan, 29, a fight broke out that left the bouncer bleeding on the floor.

"During a fight, Umali pulled a knife and stabbed Blake once in the groin area," Brown said.

The wound severed Blake's femoral artery, leading to his death 11 hours later in the hospital.

Umali allegedly fled down the street and into the subway system, discarding the knife along the way, Brown said.

Chan, his brother Ching and sister Alice left the bar soaked with blood and were soon arrested by police, only to be released when the DA's office said it could not find sufficient evidence to charge them with the crime, authorities said.

The break in the case came April 16 when a tip phoned in to the city's police hotline fingered Umali and informed police he was at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica recovering from a suicide attempt, police said. Umali had slashed his wrists and throat April 14 after learning of Blake's death, police said.

Originally of the Philippines, Umali studied kali, a Filipino martial art, at a studio in Manhattan.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA said no charges had been filed against the Chans by Tuesday, although she did not rule out the possibility that charges could be pressed at a later time.

Blake's funeral Friday erupted in chaos when his brother Tony Blake collapsed before ascending the steps into the church, then stormed into the building after regaining his footing.

Tony Blake's frenzied outburst alongside his brother's casket only ended when the bouncers assembled for the service carried him out of the church.

He was treated at Jamaica Hospital and was forced to miss the service, where Blake was remembered as a talented artist with a giving heart.

"Shazam would always find the best part - he would always lift my spirits," said a fellow bouncer who gave his name as Speedy and described himself as Blake's best friend.

Two days before the funeral and Umali's arrest, more than 100 people gathered in the courtyard outside Blake's building in the Astoria Houses to demand the arrest of his killer.

"We're not gonna sleep until we get justice," said Richard Allen, the owner of Forte Security, Blake's employer.

They also pointed the finger at Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pushed through the smoking ban that took effect last month and prompted Blake to ask that the cigarette be put out, sparking the brawl.

"The reason why this man is not here today is because he was enforcing a law," said pastor Mitchell Taylor of the Center of Hope International in Long Island City.

"He died doing a job the city made him do," said Andre Stith, 32, a neighbor from the Astoria Houses.

But Tony Blake also expressed his confidence in the Manhattan DA's office. "I do believe that they're doing their job," he said. "They've got to follow the rules."

The crowd assembled in the courtyard ranged from young children for whom Blake had painted designs on their clothes to elderly residents who watched the Blake children grow up.

"It was hard not to love Dana," said Mary Blake-Sneed, the bouncer's sister. "He was a gentle giant - would never hurt anyone, despite his imposing stature."

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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