The attorney for two men considered suspects in the death of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez said Wednesday that Lopez and his friends were the aggressors in the fatal confrontation earlier this month.
Steamboat Springs attorney Charles Feldmann identified his clients only as "Eddie" and "David," two Florida brothers in their early 20s. The two were unaware Lopez had been injured when they took off running from the fight just after midnight Jan. 2 and left downtown in a taxi with their wife and girlfriend, Feldmann said.
"They didn't know he was injured at all. They were shocked and horrified when they found out what happened to him," Feldmann said. "They absolutely never saw him hit his head."
Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Gerard Geis said Jan. 2 that people were seen fleeing the scene at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue when officers arrived to respond to multiple 911 calls. Police also said Lopez was unconscious in the street when they arrived on scene.
Charges have not been filed against the suspects. The Steamboat Springs Police Department continues to investigate Lopez's death as a homicide.
Lopez, 37, passed away Jan. 5 at a Denver hospital, three days after the fight.
"The family, my clients are just very traumatized by what happened to them in Steamboat Springs," Feldmann said. "They're devastated that somebody of such a caliber as Sgt. Lopez was hurt in any way, let alone passed away later. They're just devastated."
The two suspects were vacationing in Steamboat Springs during the New Year's holiday with family and friends, Feldmann said. The brothers went to The Tap House on the night of Jan. 1, along with Eddie's wife and David's girlfriend.
Police have said the two men got into an argument with Lopez and two of his friends, Timothy and Wesley Mottlau, over song selections on the jukebox. Lopez was vacationing with his son and the Mottlaus, who originally are from Steamboat. Timothy Mottlau is in the Navy and now lives in Norfolk, Va., and his brother is in the Army and lives in Fayetteville, N.C.
Lopez, a recipient of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at North Carolina's Fort Bragg.
In a news release e-mailed to the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Wednesday, Feldmann said his clients and their female companions "attempted to flee the increasingly hostile environment at the Tap House, where patrons were beginning to take and place bets on the brewing altercation with three physically imposing and highly trained members of our Armed Forces."
Feldmann also said his clients were "cornered and attacked" outside the front entrance of The Tap House shortly after midnight.
A co-owner of The Tap House said Jan. 5 that the two groups of men were escorted out of the bar through separate exits once their disagreement began to escalate.
Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae declined to comment on Feldmann's version of the events Wednesday, but he did confirm investigators are not seeking charges against anyone involved except the men represented by Feldmann.
"We are not basing our investigation on what four individuals have said to a defense attorney, nor are we giving any weight to a defense attorney's tactical strategy," Rae said. "Our investigation is based on every aspect of this case, including interviews of all the witnesses, suspects, victims, peripheral witnesses and physical evidence. In the end, we are confident that justice will be served."
Feldmann maintained that his clients acted only to protect themselves and the two women they were with.
Lopez was unconscious in the crosswalk across Seventh Street at Lincoln Avenue when police arrived at about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 2. He was transported to Yampa Valley Medical Center and later was airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center.
Lopez's preliminary autopsy results showed he took two hits - one to the face, one to the jaw - before suffering a severe blow from an unprotected fall to the back of his head.
The Mottlaus also were taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center after the fight with cuts and bruises. Feldmann said his clients sustained minor injuries that did not require treatment.
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