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Indio Boy, 16, Dies in `Fight Club'

After taking part in three boxing matches, the teen succumbs to head injuries. Officials see no signs the bouts are gaining popularity.

October 03, 2006|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

A 16-year-old boy who took part in a loosely organized "fight club" with friends collapsed and died Sunday after fighting in three boxing matches in a Palm Desert park, Riverside County sheriff's officials said.

Sheriff's detectives spent much of Monday at Palm Desert High School, where Jefferson Pitner was a junior, interviewing some of the 11 boys who took part in the boxing in Palm Desert Civic Center Park, authorities said.

When Jefferson collapsed about 4 p.m. Sunday, the other teenagers immediately called 911, according to Sgt. Earl Quinata, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department.

Jefferson, who lived in Indio, died of head injuries just before 11 p.m. at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.

Quinata said the case was being investigated as a homicide but authorities hadn't made any arrests and had "no evidence of criminal intent."

The boys started the group several years ago and have met regularly, Quinata said, but he did not know where the boys fought or how often. Each fight lasted one to three rounds, and could continue for several minutes.

He said there was no indication that underground fighting groups were becoming popular in Riverside County, and said Jefferson's club was not affiliated with any organization.

As students grappled with the death of their classmate, several school officials said they were puzzled by authorities' description of the club.

Jefferson's computer teacher, Ossil Macavinta, said he had talked to a number of students familiar with the group who said it was nothing like the underground violence depicted in the 1999 film "Fight Club" starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

Macavinta said students told him the boys bought boxing gloves at a sporting goods store and got together to have fun.

"When you think of a fight club, the image that is portrayed is that these kids were angry and troublemakers, and that's not the impression that I got from other students," said Macavinta, who described Jefferson as smart and polite.

"I was surprised he was even boxing," Macavinta said. "This kid looked clean-cut."

Palm Desert Principal Pat Walsh described Jefferson as a strong student who consistently enrolled in honors classes and persuaded teachers this year to transfer him from a history class into an advanced placement class because he wanted the challenge.

Walsh announced Jefferson's death over the intercom Monday and offered grief counseling to students who were shaken by their classmate's death.

He said students and teachers were raising money for the funeral.

"The kids are sad," Walsh said. "We want everybody to keep Jeff and his mom in their thoughts and prayers."

Jefferson's family members were not available for comment.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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