Panhandler dies during scuffle at South Bay gas station


Police investigate the death of a panhandler during a scuffle at a gas station in Chula Vista.

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- No criminal charges are expected to be filed against a man who got into a brief fight outside a South Bay gas station with a panhandler who abruptly collapsed and died during the scuffle, a police official said Tuesday.

The fracas -- which was witnessed by several bystanders and recorded by a surveillance camera -- erupted shortly before 8:30 p.m. Monday, after an unidentified man sitting in front of the Arco station in the 700 block of E Street in Chula Vista asked a 64-year-old patron for money, Lt. Eric Thunberg said.

The customer declined to hand over any cash and began to walk away, prompting the panhandler, who appeared to be in his 30s, to shout an ethnic slur at him, according to Thunberg.

While starting to depart the area, the customer heard the man soliciting several other people for a handout and advised them to refuse due to the beggar's apparent racism and belligerence.

At that point, the panhandler got up and angrily confronted the departing patron, whose name was withheld. Then, following a short shouting match, the younger man attacked the older one, leading to a fumbling grappling match and an exchange of attempted punches and kicks, the lieutenant said.

The men "kind of danced around'' briefly, flailing at each other and engaging in "a lot of yelling and posturing,'' but seemingly landing few solid blows, Thunberg said.

After struggling with the other man for about a minute, the panhandler stumbled and fell to the ground.

"Some of the witnesses thought he was joking,'' Thunberg said.

Once they realized the downed man truly was stricken, however, the bystanders made a 911 call. Paramedics arrived a short time later and tried in vain to revive him, then took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

By that time, the older man had left the area, the lieutenant said. Later in the night, however, he returned of his own accord and was arrested by homicide detectives, Thunberg said. The detainee was questioned at police headquarters, then released pending further investigation and autopsy results.

Based on the preliminary findings in the case, detectives did not expect to seek charges against the released suspect, whose role in the fray appeared to have largely been one of self-defense, the lieutenant said.

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