"I was just drunk," the alleged assailant, Neil Brian Rotroff, also known as Neil Brian Alamban, told police.
Now Rotroff, a 28-year-old father who lives with his mother and fiance in Cupertino, faces a charge of assault with a deadly weapon for punching the victim. The charge could change if the injuries prove fatal, police said.
Akshay Vijay Mastakar, 21, of Sunnyvale, faces charges of assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon for allegedly nearly striking two officers with his vehicle as he, Rotroff and two friends fled the scene.
"I was hella scared," Rotroff told police, after he saw the victim lying unconscious. He just wanted to go back to his kids, he said.
A police report reveals the details of the incident. Too much alcohol, an argument — no one knows about what — and perhaps young male pride led to the events that have changed the lives of the three young men.
Rotroff, Mastakar and two other friends had started their evening at a Cupertino billiard hall or bowling alley — described alternately in police reports — on Dec. 20 to celebrate the recent return of one of the men from serving in the U.S. Army, they told police. They each had two or three beers, with Mastakar, the driver, having one. At about midnight, they went to The Patio and had a few more strong drinks.
The victim and a friend, both Belarus immigrants, were also there drinking, according to police reports.
As the bar neared closing time one of the men from Rotroff's group, a Ukrainian immigrant, asked to bum a cigarette from the pair. The initial contact was amicable and conducted in Russian, according to the report. But the victim apparently got into an argument with three men from the group. No one recalls or will say what the argument was about. According to Rotroff and his friends, the man allegedly slapped one of Rotroff's friends on the head. Rotroff and the man had heated words.
Palo Alto police who were nearby intervened, according to the report. The friends on both sides kept the two apart. Separately, they told police they were going to go home.
As Rotroff and his friends crossed Emerson to leave in Mastakar's white Honda, the pair walked south toward the parking lot near the Aquarius Theater. The two were allegedly hollering insults toward Rotroff and his friends, so the four men walked back to confront them.
At that point "the fight is inevitable," Mastakar told police. Rotroff said they probably returned to "earn back our pride or something."
Versions of what happened next vary. As the exchange became more heated, one of Rotroff's friends told police he tried to diffuse the situation. He said he pushed the victim's friend away by the shoulder because he was allegedly making things worse.
But the victim's friend told police that he was struck, which Mastakar confirmed in his statement to the police. Rotroff, who was probably bumped during this altercation, fell to the ground, Mastakar said.
When Rotroff got knocked down, Mastakar said he knew the confrontation was going to escalate.
"Neil is not going to just let that go," he told police.
Rotroff, who is 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, stood up and handed his cigarette to a friend. The victim, who is tall and lanky, was squaring up with him and allegedly punching him, according to the police report.
The blows did not hurt, Rotroff said, but he felt he needed to act in self defense. He delivered a blow that a witness described as a "right cross" to the victim's head, sending the man to the pavement.
The man's family has not returned requests for comment, but his employer, Kim Grant, described him as "an amazing person and coach, and he touched a lot of lives."
"(He) is the warmest, most sincere person. He brings sunshine into every life he touches. (He) loves life, tennis, people and is such a positive person! We all admire his amazing spirit, joyful energy and generous heart! Even though I am his mentor, he has taught me much through his wonderful spirit," she wrote in an email.
Rotroff told police he is sorry for his actions. He admitted that he has been in some other fights, even being punched unconscious, according to the police report. But he said he had never knocked anyone else out before.
He said he understands that he should have been a bigger man, but he felt he was being bullied. He also was upset that the pair were insulting his friend who just got back from the Army. If anything, he told police, they should be respecting him.
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