Two employees of the All American Rathskeller charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Penn State student Salvador Peter Serrano will face trial, District Justice Thomas Jordan ruled yesterday.
At yesterday's preliminary hearing, Jordan determined there is enough evidence to support a trial for Christopher and Jason Rosengrant, employees of the Rathskeller, 108 S. Pugh St.
The hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte lasted more than eight hours, as Jordan heard testimony from more than 15 witnesses, including the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Serrano, Serrano's fiancée and two brothers of the men charged, who are also Rathskeller employees involved in the incident.
Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar said in an interview after the hearing that he expects Karen Muir, defense attorney for the Rosengrants, to appeal yesterday's decision by District Justice Thomas Jordan. If an appeal is filed, the Centre County Court of Common Pleas will review a transcript of the hearing and has the ability to overturn Jordan's decision.
Serrano died on Oct. 26 after he, his fiancée and another couple were involved in an altercation with several Rathskeller employees. The quarrel began when Rathskeller employees saw one of Serrano's friends urinating in the private parking lot behind the Rathskeller. When police arrived, Serrano was being restrained and was unresponsive. He was taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.
On Dec. 5, Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers said Serrano died from respiratory complications. Serrano vomited, aspirated and choked on his vomit. His blood alcohol level was 0.24.
President of Centre Pathology Associates Gordon Handte, who performed an autopsy on Serrano the day after his death, testified for about two hours.
Handte discussed in detail a report he prepared for the coroner's office. In the report, Handte concluded Serrano's death was accidental. But during his testimony, he stressed that this was a medical term, not a legal one.
"I believe [Serrano] was forcefully grabbed, forcefully thrown to the ground, perhaps with the weight of another person on him," Handte said. He also said finger-shaped bruising on Serrano's upper right arm showed the force with which he was grabbed.
"The force of the injury, of being thrown to the ground, precipitated the vomiting and the aspiration," Handte said.
He said the force of the restraint and the amount of alcohol Serrano had consumed made it difficult for Serrano to deal with vomiting.
During cross-examination by the Rosengrants' attorney, Karen Muir, Handte said the vomiting was probably not foreseeable by those restraining Serrano.
Muir also questioned Handte about the role that Jason Rosengrant's weight played in Serrano's death. Jason Rosengrant weighs about 225 pounds. Handte said that as a healthy man who weighed 145 pounds, Serrano should have been able to withstand the weight. But he also said Jason Rosengrant's weight added to Serrano's inability to deal with his vomit, Handte said.
Serrano's fiancée, Brooke Morgan, and another couple, Alison Bresnahan and Timothy Padalino, were with Serrano that night and testified at the hearing. Bresnahan and Padalino said they were physically restrained by Rathskeller employees like Serrano. The three gave slightly different accounts of the details of the altercation, and none could say exactly what led Rathskeller employees to restrain Serrano.
Rathskeller employees Ryan and Curtis Rosengrant, brothers of the two men charged with involuntary manslaughter, both testified that it was Serrano's friends who initiated physical contact and were subsequently restrained.
There was disagreement among the witnesses over the amount of force used by Rathskeller employees during the altercation. Serrano's friends testified that the employees were aggressive and used a lot of force when restraining them. Ryan and Curtis Rosengrant both testified that the physical contact was not forceful and was only in response to Serrano's friends' behavior.
Both Ryan and Curtis Rosengrant said they told Padalino and Bresnahan at the beginning of the incident that if they left the parking lot, the police would not be called. Ryan and Curtis Rosengrant said these requests were ignored.
However, Morgan, Bresnahan and Padalino said they never heard the Rathskeller employees say this.
Former Rathskeller employee Devin Johnson also testified at the hearing. Johnson was a customer at the Rathskeller the night of Serrano's death. He said he went into the parking lot when he heard people in the bar saying there was a fight going on in the back.
Johnson used his cell phone to call police during the incident. Johnson's recorded 911 call was played during yesterday's hearing.
Muir called State College Police Department Sgt. Christian Fishel to the stand. Fishel testified that in his 12 years with State College police, he had been called to the Rathskeller several times and found employees restraining people. None of these other people died from being restrained, Fishel said.
Others who testified included a bystander, the owner of the Rathskeller property, the president of the Rathskeller, residents of nearby apartment buildings and several of the other police officers who were at the scene. All gave their accounts of what went on during the incident. Neither Christopher nor Jason Rosengrant testified yesterday.
Arraignment for the two brothers is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Collegian staff writer Shaun Parcels contributed to this report.