Updated January 6, 2009 at midnight
Steamboat Springs A Fort Bragg-based soldier died Monday from injuries he sustained during a physical altercation last week in Steamboat Springs.
Richard Lopez, 37, of Fayetteville, N.C., was involved in a five-person altercation that police said started after a dispute about a jukebox selection at The Tap House. He was found unconscious at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue at about 12:15 a.m. Friday, police said last week. Lopez was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center and then airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center.
He died at 4:16 a.m. Monday at the Denver hospital, Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae confirmed. No one had been arrested as of Monday afternoon, he said.
"There are suspects, and they have been interviewed, and the investigation is ongoing," Rae said.
Melissa Baker, co-owner of The Tap House, said doormen escorted the two groups out separate exits after the jukebox disagreement began. She said no punches were thrown inside the restaurant.
Two of the men involved, Lopez's friends Timothy and Wesley Mottlau, are former Steamboat residents. They sustained cuts and bruises in the incident, Sgt. Gerard Geis said last week. The three men were in Steamboat on leave from the military, he said.
The suspects in the assault have left the area, Rae confirmed. He said investigators are in contact with the men's attorneys. He would not say what charges might be filed, nor would he provide details about eyewitness accounts of the assault.
"It's still under investigation," Rae said. "The charges that ultimately are filed will be appropriate, but we still have a lot of work to do.
"We cannot be in a hurry in an investigation like this. We have to do a very thorough and methodical investigation."
The Mottlaus' half-sister Robyn Higginbotham, reached by cell phone Monday, said she had been in Denver with Lopez since the incident. She said he died after going into cardiac arrest early Monday.
Wesley Mottlau had known Lopez for about 10 years, Higginbotham said, starting when Lopez recruited him into the Army. Timothy Mottlau is an officer in the Navy and is being deployed today, Higginbotham said. Wesley Mottlau, a paratrooper, is scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan in mid-January, she said.
Lopez had been in the Army about 15 years, she said, and had just returned from Afghanistan for paratrooper training in Yuma, Ariz. He wanted to become an instructor, Higginbotham said. He has a 16-year-old son who lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
Steamboat police are asking anyone who saw or heard anything related to the incident to call the department at 970-879-4345 or Crime Stoppers at 970-879-6226.
"Other unbiased witnesses may have viewed the assault or a portion of the disagreement that took place," Rae said, urging such witnesses to come forward.