Witnesses: Official hurt man

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By David Giuliani

Witnesses last week testified that city Utilities Director Ken Garcia attacked another man in a local bar, hitting the alleged victim in the head with a beer bottle.

At the end of a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Ken Garcia, 44, was bound over for trial in state District Court. He faces a felony charge of aggravated battery.

Most of the witnesses in the Magistrate Court hearing didn’t know or barely knew either Garcia or the alleged victim, Rick Nelson, 37.

But nearly of all of them said Garcia started the fight and that Nelson did nothing to provoke him.

Garcia went to Legers bar on the night of April 13 with Kiki Arellano, a county employee

She testified that after Nelson came in, he stared at her from across the bar.

“It got very uncomfortable. It was time to go home,” she said.

So she said she eventually told Garcia that she was leaving because Nelson, whom she apparently didn’t know, was staring at her.

As she was leaving, she passed by where Nelson was sitting at the bar. He stopped her and asked her if she wanted a drink, blocking her path with his leg, she testified. She said no. He asked her again and placed his hand on her shoulder, she said. Again, she told him no.

Then she said she left the bar for the package liquor portion of the business to buy cigarettes.

Shortly after, according to most of the witnesses, the fight began. Arellano was out of the room.

Joe Harge, Highlands University’s men’s basketball coach, was at the bar at the time. He said he didn’t see the start of the fight, but he saw that Nelson had a lot of blood on him.

One of Harge’s assistant coaches told the court that he saw a bloodied Nelson at the end of the fight.

George Ortega, the Legers manager, said he was called in to break up the fight and that he saw Garcia strike Nelson at least twice with the beer bottle. Ortega, who had worked at Legers for more than two decades, said it wasn’t a typical fight.

When Ortega arrived, Garcia and Nelson had fallen into a booth, with Garcia on top attacking Nelson, Ortega said.

“There was a lot of blood,” he said.

A bartender also told the court that Garcia attacked Nelson — an account backed up by a customer who was talking with her.

Called to the stand, Nelson said he glanced at Arellano and later asked to buy her a drink.

“I wanted to be nice,” he said.

But he denied ever putting his hand on her shoulder.

Nelson, who admitted to previous convictions, said he didn’t remember much about what happened during the fight because of his adrenaline.

“I remember that blood was gushing out,” said Nelson, who testified that he had had only a little more than a beer that day.

He said he was taken by ambulance to the hospital afterward to get staples and stitches to heal his wounds. He was released that same night, he said.

At the end of the hearing, Magistrate Judge Chris Najar said he found enough evidence to bind the case over for trial in District Court.

Garcia, who was placed on paid administrative leave after the fight, was back at work a few days later.

Garcia is in charge of the city’s water, wastewater, natural gas and solid waste departments.