Crime

Defendant appears to stomp on vineyard manager, video of San Miguel fight shows

Travis Woolf
Travis Woolf

Video shown to jurors in a manslaughter trial appears to show one of the defendants “stomping” a well-known North County vineyard manager as he lay unconscious in the street following a late night brawl outside a San Miguel bar in 2014, a forensic pathologist testified in court Thursday.

Sergio Aranda, 36, of Salinas, and Travis Woolf, 37, of San Miguel, face manslaughter and assault charges in the death of La Vista Vineyards manager Alvaro Medrano, 54, who suffered brain injuries in a fight involving at least eight people outside the Elkhorn Bar on Sept. 7, 2014.

Aranda and Woolf were correctional guards at Salinas Valley State Prison at the time but have since been terminated. Both have pleaded not guilty, claiming Medrano gathered his friends to rough them up following some kind of disagreement inside the bar.

Although evidence and testimony presented in the trial so far suggest that Medrano was an aggressor, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office argues that Woolf dealt a devastating punch that sent Medrano to the ground, where he struck his head and was lying unconscious when Aranda stomped on him.

On Wednesday, jurors heard a recording of Elkhorn bartender Danielle Boatwright’s calls to 911. In the first, she told the dispatcher that a fight was about to break out between a couple of regulars and “about six to seven Mexican guys.” She clarified to Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen on the stand that the guards actually were not regulars and that she knew Medrano and some of his friends.

In the second, Boatwright told the dispatcher: “The guy who started the fight got hit really hard. ... He’s unconscious or something.”

Under cross-examination by Aranda’s attorney, Gerald Carrasco, Boatwright testified that Medrano and his son-in-law, Dakotah Lovelace, started the altercation. She said words were exchanged between the two parties and at some point, Woolf put his arm around Medrano, whose expression suddenly changed.

Medrano left the bar but returned about 20 minutes later, Boatwright testified, and appeared “angry or upset.” She described Medrano as “a very nice man” and that the behavior was uncharacteristic of him. She said she told him it was last call and insisted he leave. After briefly ignoring her, she said, Medrano and his friends went outside.

Jurors were played a video taken from a surveillance camera two doors down from the bar that captured portions of the ensuing fight. In one segment, Woolf is seen moving about the group and punching Medrano. Medrano, who moves in and out of the frame, gets back up and is punched in the head by Woolf again, and again falls to the ground. Aranda then appears to run over and kick Medrano.

That looked more like a stomp.

Forsensic pathologist Gary Walter, testifying about a move made by Sergio Aranda on an unconscious Alvaro Medrano in surveillance footage

As Medrano’s motionless body lies in the street immediately following the fight, Aranda is seen turning Medrano’s body over before sheriff’s deputies arrive and begin chest compressions. Lovelace is seen in the frame pacing with his head in his hands.

Two friends testify

Two of Medrano’s friends who arrived at the bar to join in the fight testified Thursday. Omar Herrera Contreras, through an interpreter, said he was at home nearby when Medrano called and told him to come to the bar. Herrera testified that he had not been drinking that night, so he drove himself and his cousin, Pedro Contreras, to the bar.

When the fight began, Herrera said he saw Woolf hit Medrano two or three times. After one of the blows, Herrera said he picked Medrano back up. When asked by Woolf’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, why he didn’t keep Medrano down for his safety, Herrera said he did it instinctively.

“You just needed another body to help fight, right?” Funke-Bilu asked.

Herrera denied that.

Herrera said he and Medrano’s group were defending themselves.

“You’re telling me that three people started attacking the five of you?” Funke-Bilu pressed.

“They attacked us first,” Herrera replied.

Contreras, also through an interpreter, testified that he punched Woolf — the “tall one” — outside the bar after he saw Woolf punching one of his friends. That’s when Aranda stepped in and began hitting him in the chest and face, he said.

“He kept beating me and beating me, and I said that’s enough,” Contreras said. “But he continued beating me, so I ran.”

He said he ran to his house and later found out through Medrano’s son that Medrano had died.

It couldn’t have been much of a fight. I don’t have a mark on me.

Travis Woolf, in a recorded interview with detectives four hours after the fight

Gary Walter, a pathologist with the San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office, testified Thursday that Medrano died from blunt-force trauma injuries that caused diffuse axonal damage, a type of brain damage caused by movement of the brain from an action such as a fall, rather than blows to the head. Walter said Medrano’s injuries caused him to die quickly.

Van Rooyen, the D.A., asked Walter whether Medrano’s internal injuries were consistent with someone who was punched twice, fell to the ground twice and then was kicked.

Walter agreed.

While under cross-examination, Walter challenged attorney Carrasco’s characterization of Aranda as having “placed his foot” on Medrano.

“I don’t recall seeing anyone putting their foot down, but I recall a kicking action,” Walter said, saying the video was consistent with his findings. “That looked more like a stomp.”

On Friday, jurors were played another recording of Woolf being interviewed by a pair of sheriff’s detectives inside the Elkhorn about four hours after the fight. In it, a defensive Woolf claims he was knocked to the ground by members of Medrano’s group immediately after walking outside the bar.

“Soon as I go outside — boom! — I get clocked ... and there are these guys on top of me,” Woolf says. “It felt like I got hit with a sledgehammer.”

Asked how and why the fight started, Woolf said he didn’t know.

“I have no clue. ... But if I’m getting my ass beat, I’m going to do what I have to do,” Woolf says. “It couldn’t have been much of a fight. I don’t have a mark on me.”

Throughout the interview, Woolf is heard reassuring the detectives that he, too, is “law enforcement” and wanted to help.

“I’m not a bad-ass. I’m not like you guys. I’m an easygoing guy,” Woolf says. “Everybody likes me — I’m nice.”

Testimony is to resume Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

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