Michail J. Makarenko, 75, a Hillsboro resident and former political prisoner, was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the attack at a rest stop near the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, a state police spokesman said.
Makarenko and a friend were on their way to New York to meet other friends when they pulled over about 1 a.m. to use the bathroom, said the friend, Gregory Burnside, who was Makarenko's interpreter and personal secretary.
"I went to eat, and when I finished, maybe five or ten minutes later, he wasn't in the car," Burnside said. "Then I saw someone was on the ground. I got closer, and it was him. His head had been bashed in by a rock. I just did the sign of the cross over him, recited the Lord's Prayer and told him to hang in there."
But about a half-hour later, despite the efforts of paramedics, Makarenko died, Burnside said.
Makarenko had lived in the United States since 1979, when he was exiled by the Soviet government for his repeated dissident activities, according to an article in the Russian magazine Glasnost provided by Burnside.
Among his crimes were running an avant-garde art gallery and engaging in union organizing. He served a total of 11 years in prison. His longest term, eight years, was for anti-Soviet agitation, Burnside said. While in prison, he continued his activism, working for prisoners' rights, the article said.
Since coming to the United States, Makarenko had been a writer and lecturer, Burnside said. He testified before Congress about slavery in the Soviet Union and at the time of his death was gathering material for his autobiography, he said.
"He was an important dissident," Burnside said. "He fought for human rights and resisted communism every way he could."
What kind of a monster would kill an old man: a Russian dissident and human rights activist? One of Putin's Polonium hitmen? Not quite.
Authorities said Brian K. White, 26, of Humble, Tex., approached Makarenko to sell him a Christian music CD. When Makarenko declined, witnesses said, White struck Makarenko on the head with a landscaping rock. White climbed into his 1984 Chevy Camaro and fled northbound on the turnpike.
I can't help but think that there must be more to the story than just retaliation for not buying his Christian music. But in this mad world ...