Christopher Cella, 19, drove to a spot near a Latino market and restaurant in Farmingville, N.Y., the police said. The market, La Placita, is popular with immigrant men in the area who wait nearby in hopes of landing temporary work.
Mr. Cella picked up a 52-year-old man there, drove him to an abandoned construction site and attacked him, the police said.
Mr. Cella then went to a nearby 7-Eleven store, another informal hiring hub for day laborers, and picked up a 60-year-old man, driving to an apartment complex and attacking him as well, the police said. Mr. Cella placed him in a chokehold from behind and squeezed his neck violently before the man was able to escape, the authorities said.
Early Saturday, the police said, Mr. Cella returned to the 7-Eleven and picked up a 47-year-old man. Once in the car, the man became suspicious of Mr. Cella’s intentions and got out. Mr. Cella tried to run him down, the authorities said.
All three of the victims were Hispanic, the police said, and on Sunday, Mr. Cella, of Selden, N.Y., was arrested and charged with several hate crimes. He was placed on supervised release with GPS monitoring at an arraignment on Monday and is scheduled to return to court on Friday.
In a phone interview on Monday, Mr. Cella denied that the episodes were racially motivated and said that one involved a man toward whom he felt lingering animosity as a result of a painting job they had worked on together.
“It’s not a race thing,” said Mr. Cella, who added that he had merely meant to drive the men to remote locations from which it would be difficult to get home and had not meant to get into physical altercations.
“My intention wasn’t to do anything to hurt them,” he said.
The attacks, he added, were a result of being under the influence of Xanax, a psychiatric drug that is prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders but that the Food and Drug Administration has warned carries a significant risk of abuse and addiction.