Man in coma after fight at bar
By CHARLES ADAMSON, Californian staff writer
Tuesday December 17, 2002, 10:55:49 PM
Bakersfield police arrived at Guthrie's Alley Cat downtown bar early Saturday morning to find Alan Johnson Craig reportedly drunk and bleeding. A bouncer had punched Craig, who then fell and hit his head on the pavement, according to bar bouncers' accounts to police. A disoriented and intoxicated Craig, 44, told police he didn't want to press charges and was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment, police said. His brain later swelled and he lost consciousness. Now Craig's family say doctors may have to remove a portion of his brain to save his life. His family said they believe he was severely beaten.
Bar owner Ken Reed said his bouncer punched a drunk and belligerent Craig just once when the 6-foot, 3-inch martial arts black belt tried to attack the bouncer.
Police arrested Alley Cat bouncer Erick Michael McGhee on Monday afternoon for felony battery causing great bodily harm. "It was self-defense. I can't say anything else," McGhee said in a phone interview Tuesday. Craig remained unconscious and on a ventilator Monday in the KMC intensive care unit. If he dies, McGhee could face murder charges, officials said. The night for Craig started out at a company Christmas party held at a steakhouse by his employer, Rosedale Glass Co. He, his fiancĂ©e Denise King, and a friend went to the Alley Cat and then another bar. King left Craig at 11 p.m., she said. "He and I argued a little bit. I said I wanted to go home and he didn't. It was nothing major," King said.
"He wasn't belligerently drunk. He was happy, having a good time," King said. His friend left shortly after midnight Friday, King said. Sometime after that, Craig went back to the Alley Cat. When Craig returned to the Alley Cat he asked for a Scotch, Reed said. He was refused and given a glass of water instead. Reed said Craig asked three more times, eventually cursing at the bartender and throwing a glass at him. That's when Craig was kicked out of the bar. Police were called to the scene at 12:44 a.m. Saturday.
McGhee told police that Craig charged him, McGhee hit him in the head once and Craig fell to the ground, striking his head, said police Detective Mary Degeare. Craig's forehead was fractured, his nose and cheek bone broken, a tooth was dislodged and his brain swelled, family members said. Friend Jodi Martin said Craig was conscious for short periods of time over the weekend, at one point acknowledging people in the room.
"Two seconds later he starts looking at the ceiling and saying, 'Mama, mama.' I said 'Oh my God. He's fried'." Martin said.
Reed apologized, but said Craig's friends and family shouldn't have left him alone while he was drunk. "He was drunk and aggressive and we were doing our job and this is a freak accident," Reed said. "I'm devastated. I haven't been able to sleep. I've been trying to reach out to this family, but I feel awkward." Craig's family doesn't dispute that he was drunk. They said his medical tests showed a .169 blood alcohol level, more than twice the legal driving limit. What they dispute is that one punch and a fall could have caused his injuries.
Craig was arrested for public intoxication in November 1997 in his front yard after, according to the police report, he was arguing with King about his drinking problem. King said he has also been arrested multiple times for drunken driving, all more than six years ago.
"He's an alcoholic, honestly," King said, but "he was an excellent person. He was an excellent father. He just drank on the weekends." King and Craig have a 4-year-old daughter and Craig has four other children from a previous marriage. His mother said being drunk doesn't justify violence. "Just because a customer is drunk and makes them angry, they should not be allowed to vent that," said Craig's mother Marsha Heath. "They are in the business of selling alcohol to make people drunk. What do they expect, for them to go out of there sober?" Sgt. Mike Cantrell said bouncers, by the nature of their job, often deal with unruly drunks that can become physically aggressive, but they can only strike out in self-defense.
"They're civilians like everyone else. They don't have any special privileges," Cantrell said. "Like anyone else they can defend themselves." McGhee is schedule to be arraigned Dec. 20. Reed said the injuries were the worst he's seen from a fight. "I've been there 27 years and never have had anything like this happen, and we've had some barn-burning fights," he said.
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