On a wintry afternoon in February 2010, a road-rage incident exploded in afternoon traffic in Boston’s congested Downtown Crossing. When police rounded the corner, several people were struggling to subdue a slim, dark-haired man boiling with anger.
“You say something about my mother, I will kill you!” Ibragim Todashev, 27, yelled at a passenger from another car, according to the Boston police, who overheard the shouts.
Police quickly arrested the Russian immigrant for reckless driving and other charges, but the FBI said Todashev’s impulsive temper led to his death Wednesday more than 1,200 miles away in Florida, when he allegedly attacked agents with a knife as they interrogated him about his links to suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. An FBI agent shot and killed Todashev.
The stunning development five weeks after the bombings revealed a little-known member of Tsarnaev’s tight network of friends and the leads authorities are pursuing to investigate Tsarnaev’s alleged crimes. Authorities also interrogated Todashev about his and Tsarnaev’s possible involvement in a triple slaying in Waltham two years ago.
Conflicting versions of Todashev emerged in Massachusetts, where he lived for several years; in Florida, where he had recently set up residence; and in Russia, where his father described him to Russian media as a calm man who was merely Tsarnaev’s gym buddy.
The two men had much in common: Both were ethnic Chechens who left Russia for the United States when they were older — Tsarnaev as a teenager; Todashev, in his early 20s — who bonded over their mutual affinity for fighting and working out. While Tsarnaev lived for years in Cambridge, Todashev bounced between Allston and Cambridge.
John Allan, owner of Allston’s Wai Kru gym, said via a spokesman that he recalled the men coming in together to work out. The wiry Todashev — at 5 feet 9 inches and 155 pounds — was a lightweight mixed martial arts fighter with one win on his record, far less accomplished than Tsarnaev, a boxing champion.
“John said Tamerlan had actually brought this guy to the gym a few times and that they obviously knew each other,’’ said David Leigh, spokesman for Allan.
Leigh said Allan recalled Todashev as a “hothead,” but Todashev portrayed himself to the US government as someone who was living in fear.
Like Tsarnaev, Todashev won asylum in 2008 from the US government. Details of Todashev’s case were unavailable, but to win asylum a person must have suffered persecution — or fear it — for reasons outlined in federal law, such as political or religious affiliation.
Todashev came to America to study on a temporary visa, according to law enforcement officials. It is unclear when he moved to Massachusetts, or if he ever studied anywhere, but he was issued a state driver’s license in May 2009 and had four traffic violations, including the 2010 incident. The license expired in September, when he did not renew it.
Todashev’s 2010 arrest was not serious enough to get him deported. He admitted to sufficient facts for reckless driving and other charges, a plea that allowed him to avoid a conviction while admitting that there was enough evidence for a guilty finding. The charges were later dismissed, and he obtained a green card in February, clearing the way for him to apply for US citizenship.
But the episode left an impression on a 28-year-old Brighton man who was riding in his sister’s red Mazda that day in 2010 in Downtown Crossing when a gray van driven by Todashev chased them through a green light, passed them on Tremont Street and screeched to a halt, slamming into another car in the process. Todashev got out, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, said the passenger, who did not want to be identified. The men scuffled. The man said he subdued Todashev with a chokehold and was surprised to learn later Todashev was a fighter.
Todashev debuted as a professional fighter in 2012, clinching his first bout with a chokehold — called a guillotine choke — against Bradford May in Tampa. In an interview, May recalled Todashev as “eerily” quiet: “He didn’t say a word to anybody, just kept to himself.”
It is unclear when Todashev moved to Florida. He obtained a driver’s license there in March 2012 and joined an Orlando gym known as The Jungle, where co-owner, Mike Lee, declared him “unmemorable.”
But Todashev’s martial arts training came into sharp focus this month in a fight over a parking space at the Orlando Premium Outlets mall, according to a report by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. On May 4, records show, Todashev and Lester Garcia were arguing over a parking space when, Todashev said, Garcia’s son “came at him swinging.”
Todashev said he defended himself to protect his knee. He had undergone surgery in March and owed $25,277, which he paid in full three days before the altercation, according to court records. But sheriff’s Deputy Larry Clifton noted that Todashev left Garcia with a split upper lip, several teeth knocked out of place, and head injuries, then sped off in a white Mercedes-Benz with Georgia plates while the younger Garcia lay unconscious in a pool of blood.
In his report, Clifton noted that Todashev admitted he was a former mixed martial arts fighter. “This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person,” Clifton wrote.Jeremiah Manion, Bob Hohler, Erin Ailworth, Todd Feathers, John R. Ellement, and Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report. Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.