No arrest in 'mutual fight' that left panhandler dead in Chula Vista

A panhandler involved in a “mutual fight” with a convenience store customer in Chula Vista Monday night collapsed after the two tussled and later died, Chula Vista police said.

The customer, a 64-year-old man, was arrested after he returned to the store to retrieve his cellphone and found a police investigation underway, said police Lt. Eric Thunberg. Several hours later, police released the man, saying they did not have sufficient grounds for a criminal complaint.

Police were called to the AM/PM store on E Street just east of Interstate 5 around 8:20 p.m. and found the victim unresponsive in the parking lot without a pulse. Paramedics performed CPR on the man and took him to the hospital, where he died.

Officers reviewed the store’s surveillance video and saw that the fight between the two included minimal contact.

“Based upon the evidence presented to us it looks like a mutual fight where the deceased was the aggressor,” the lieutenant said.

The video shows the victim sitting on a curb and asking the older man for money as he walks toward the store. They begin to argue and then the video shows the panhandler standing up and trying to punch the customer but missing, Thunberg said.

Later, the customer told police that after he refused to give the other man a dollar, the panhandler called him a racial slur. The customer told other people not to give the man any money either, Thunberg said.

As the two begin to fight — throwing punches and kicking at each other — most of the strikes missed, Thunberg said. They stop fighting and appear to yell at each other before the victim collapses to the ground, according to the video.

Witnesses told police they thought the man was joking when he fell to the ground.

“Some witnesses were 10 feet away and they thought he was joking,” Thunberg said. Those witnesses told police they initially saw the man moving and breathing before he stopped moving and emergency crews were called.

Thunberg said the man who died appeared to be in his 30s. He has not yet been identified.

karen.kucher@sduniontribune.com

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