The attorney for a war veteran killed by a sucker punch outside a Rock Hill bar told Lawyers Weekly in June that the man’s estate is not likely to collect any of the $1.8 million wrongful death judgment from the indigent, incarcerated defendant.
That may be true, but it looks as though the family of 65-year-old Odell Fields will at least see some of the award, courtesy of a writ of execution ordering deputies to lock down the defendant Sandbar Bar & Grill, which, along with its owner, Jose Cintron, is responsible for more than $800,000 of the judgment.
While the June 12 judgment order notes that Cintron made attempts to keep Cobb and Fields separated, circuit Judge Jack Kimball wrote that Cintron failed to adequately oversee his employees, who continued to serve drinks to an intoxicated Cobb, and failed to “undertake sufficient measures” to shield Fields from the assault.
“While Sandbar and Cintron cannot escape liability for actual damages, I find that there is not clear and convincing evidence to warrant an award of punitive damages against these defendants,” Kimball wrote.
But apparently Sandbar wasn’t inclined to pay any damages at all. According to Fields’ attorney, David Manzi of Schiller & Hamilton in Rock Hill, he needed to act fast after hearing that Cintron planned to close the bar. Manzi knew that the writ might be his client’s only avenue of compensation, and he didn’t want to impound an empty building.
The writ was signed by the clerk of court July 19, but Manzi said he held onto the order, hoping that Cintron would agree to a “peaceful transfer of assets.”
Instead, Manzi said, Cintron was uncooperative. So, on Nov. 28, York County deputies executed the writ, seizing the bar’s contents and having the locks changed.
“The owner was actually there when we seized the property with the sheriff,” Manzi said.
According Manzi, the seized assets will be auctioned off and used to satisfy some of the judgment against Sandbar. He has no idea how much money the sale will yield, but said that the bar contains some larger items such as commercial freezers, refrigerators, and stoves, which will be moved from the bar once inventory is complete.
“Items are advertised for three weeks before the auction,” Manzi said. “I am assuming all of this will take place shortly after the first of the year.”
According to prosecutors, Fields, a former Marine twice injured in combat and honored for saving a fellow Marine’s life, died at the hands of a drunken bar patron. Surveillance video of the May 10, 2014, incident shows Eric Cobb, 30 years old at the time, standing on the sidewalk outside the bar, several feet from Fields. Fields was speaking to another man, reportedly Cintron, who appeared to be trying to diffuse an argument between the two.
Fields poured what was left of his drink onto the ground before walking away from the bar and into the parking lot.
Cobb gulped the last of his own beverage, discarded the plastic cup, and followed Fields. When Cobb got close enough, he blindsided Fields, knocking him down.
If the initial blow did not render Fields unconscious, the impact of his head striking the concrete did. He was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte but never awoke. He suffered “severe and irreversible” brain damage, and died the next day.
Manzi said the two men may have exchanged words prior to the assault, but that nothing Fields may have said warranted the “unprovoked sneak attack” that killed him.
Cobb eventually pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In addition to Cobb and Sandbar, Manzi initially planned to pursue Sandbar’s insurer, Nationwide, which did not provide a defense and declined to pay coverage. He now believes that is not a viable option, saying that the company has an “ironclad exclusion” for this type of claim.
According to prison records, Cobb’s projected release date is early 2027. His financial situation is unknown, but Manzi is not optimistic that he will be able to pay much, if any, of the million-dollar judgment against him. Manzi told Lawyers Weekly in June that Fields’ family — his widow, and his son who represents his estate among them — was pleased with the judgment “under the circumstances.”
“They remember their father quite well,” Manzi said then, “and are trying to do right by him.”
Though Fields’ family members have no idea how much of their judgment will be recovered by selling everything inside the bar where their loved one lost his life, they do have a plan to honor him. And it involves another court order.
“We are trying to get a court order so we can donate the food products to a needy organization in Rock Hill in Odell’s memory,” Manzi said. “We’re waiting on the judge’s decision.”
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher