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Sheriff Investigates Party-Goer's Beating Death

Violence: Coroner rules Nick Dowey, 21, died from blows to head. Witnesses give conflicting accounts about party of 300 that got out of control.

September 16, 1997|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — Vowing to learn who beat a Ventura man to death at an out-of-control party in Ojai over the weekend, sheriff's detectives Monday continued to interview witnesses and sort through evidence.

But Sheriff Larry Carpenter on Monday questioned one witness' report that a deputy clubbed Nick Dowey, 21, on the head with a metal flashlight after Dowey had already been beaten bloody with a baseball bat or crowbar by a party-goer.

Dowey died 24 hours later at the Ventura County Medical Center of what the county coroner's office Monday called blunt-force head injuries.

"At this point, I won't say there's no indication [Dowey] was struck with a flashlight. One individual said that," Carpenter said Monday. "But a number of witnesses said that was absolutely not the case and they made, in fact, complimentary comments about the way our deputies handled the situation. . . . We will sort through this."

Dowey was one of about 300 party-goers who flocked to a house on St. Thomas Drive for a raucous party with a live band and a mosh pit Friday night, said Sheriff's Capt. Keith Parks.

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Deputies visited the party briefly at 9:30 Friday to warn the hosts about the noise, then returned about 10:10 when someone reported 50 people were involved in a fight.

When deputies arrived, they were led to Dowey, who was covered with blood from a head wound, Parks said.

"Witnesses claim they heard the noise of a fight and they found him lying on the ground," Parks said. "We don't know if he was injured in the fight, or if somebody just cold-cocked him. This is going to be a big investigation. It's going to take a lot of manpower."

Dowey tried to get into a pickup truck to drive away, but deputies grabbed him and tried to make him lie still until paramedics could come to treat his injuries.

Dowey began wrestling with them, and they tried to subdue him with pepper spray, then with a chokehold, Parks said.

"They're trying to restrain him, they're trying to get him to lie down and wait so they can do some first aid on him," Parks said. "He's very combative, which is fairly typical of people with head injuries."

The deputies eventually wrestled Dowey onto a gurney, which was loaded into an ambulance and whisked to Ojai Valley Community Hospital.

Dowey was later transferred to Ventura County Medical Center, where he died of his injuries at 10:10 p.m. Saturday.

Deputies wrote a criminal citation to the landlord, Randall Hromadik, 48, for contributing to the delinquency of a minor because there were underage people drinking at the party, Carpenter said.

Hromadik--who alleged that a deputy hit Dowey on the head with a flashlight--was later arrested and released on his own recognizance because he refused to sign the citation, Carpenter said.

"We interviewed a number of people who were standing there watching, and they said the officers didn't do that," Parks said, referring to Hromadik's allegations.

Hromadik could not be reached for comment, and Dowey's family declined to comment.

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Carpenter said department training does not include using the standard-issue flashlight as a club.

"Whatever it was that he was hit with could have ranged from a baseball bat to a crowbar. Those things were seen," Carpenter said.

"We believe he was struck in the head with something prior to us arriving on the scene that resulted in a crushed skull, and that was the source and cause of all the blood," Carpenter said. "We have a suspect out there, and we're actively investigating that."

Meanwhile, a rosary will be recited for Dowey at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Joseph P. Reardon Funeral Home in Ventura. A Christian burial mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, and Dowey will be buried at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park.

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