Victim in fatal Queens dispute over free cigarette was kind, helpful man, family says

Family and neighbors of a Queens man killed in a deli fight over a cigarette were left puzzling Sunday over the death of a man they knew as friendly and kind.

Jonathan Gantt, 41, was fatally stabbed in an argument with another customer early Saturday at the 5 Star Jamaica Deli in Queens Village, where Gantt was demanding a cigarette from a store worker, according to police.

The other customer intervened, and a fight broke out. That customer pulled out a knife and stabbed Gantt in the leg, slicing an artery. The victim was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital.

“He talked to everybody,” his grieving aunt Jackie McCoy told the Daily News.

She and her nephew lived together on Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village.

“He was definitely a person to be in the neighborhood and say ‘Hi’ to everybody and ‘Can I help? What can I help you with?’ He was that kind of guy,” McCoy said.

Gantt, who went by the nickname JoeJoe, worked installing and finishing floors and started a job at a trucking company about a month ago.

“He was just the go-to kind of guy,” McCoy said, adding that he loved to joke around.

“He would laugh and try to get you to laugh,” she added.

McCoy said the description of the fateful argument in the deli didn’t fit her nephew’s character.

Police said the victim entered the deli around 5:30 a.m. and demanded a free smoke from an employee. Upon being refused, Gantt grew irate and threatened the worker, cops said.

He left the store but returned a short time later, when the fatal fight broke out with the other customer.

“If that happened, that’s not like him,” his aunt said.

Police did not immediately release the name of the assailant. After the incident, he fled to his nearby second-floor apartment and locked himself inside. He ultimately surrendered to police and was taken into custody, cops said, with charges pending.

A deli employee said both men were regular customers.

McCoy described her nephew as artistic and a Mets fan, saying he was raised in a Baptist church. Gantt’s dad died of cancer in 2007.

“He loved family,” she said of Gantt, noting the two were planning a summer trip to visit relatives.

One of her nephew’s friends knocked on her door to tell her about the incident, she said, with police coming later to say he didn’t make it.

“I’m still in shock,” she said. “I work at night and I’m thinking I’m going to come home the next morning and I’m thinking I’m going to see him.”

One of their neighbors, who only wanted to give her first name Ornela, 19, was in tears over his death.

“He seemed like the most unproblematic person ever, so I’m shocked,” she lamented.

She said Gantt liked “to be quiet and go about his business and just to have a good time sometimes with his friends. He’s not a loud kind of dude.”

The victim’s mom lives out of state, according to McCoy. “She’s taking it extremely hard,” she said.

An undated Facebook post showed Gantt performing Christian rap. After his death, McCoy posted: “Keep our family in prayer.”