A deadly 2016 fight outside a St. Petersburg bar is the subject of a lawsuit by the wife of the victim, while the man who threw the fatal blow faces an appeal of his Stand Your Ground self-defense protection.
On Feb. 10, 2016, Bobby Ryan and Christopher Motlenski were at Angelo’s Grill and Bar on First Avenue N in downtown St. Petersburg. According to police, Motlenski got into a verbal altercation at about 2:30 a.m. with two customers: Ryan, and Ryan’s friend Torsten Simpson.
The fight continued outside, where Ryan punched the 53-year-old Motlenski in the head, causing him to fall and hit the pavement, where he was knocked unconscious. The fight was recorded on video, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Motlenski was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg; he died March 7 in hospice care.
Police arrested Ryan, also a resident of St. Pete, at home and charged him with felony battery.
Motlenski, a native of Aquebogue, NY, had been an electrical engineer who worked in sales for Oracle. He lived in St. Petersburg with wife Cathleen. The couple had three children.
After prosecutors amended the charge to manslaughter, Ryan, 41, sought protection under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, arguing that Motlenski was the aggressor and had “bull charged” Simpson into a plate-glass window.
Under Florida law, a person “does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.” They are justified in using deadly force if believing they face imminent death or great bodily harm. In 2017, legislators changed the Stand Your Ground rules, so prosecutors (instead of defendants) now had a burden of proof under the law.
Ryan’s was the first case brought under the new rules. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada dismissed the charge Aug. 4, 2017. Three days later, Pinellas prosecutor Bernie McCabe filed an appeal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Witnesses in Ryan’s manslaughter case testified Motlenski was the aggressor, and that he was yelling out at Ryan and Simpson after the pair walked away from what was at the time just a verbal altercation.
But, in a negligence suit filed Dec. 7 against Angelo’s Grill, Motlenski’s widow disagrees.
Cathleen Motlenski argues that Ryan and Simpson drunkenly and belligerently made violent threats toward her husband. She also claims restaurant staff failed to adequately protect Motlenski from harm, suggesting they played a part by negligently getting customers like Ryan and Simpson drunk.
However, at least one witness contradicts Cathleen Motlenski’s claim. Restaurant employee Carla Jo Baumbach told the court she didn’t think Ryan was served alcohol at Angelo’s.
While witnesses appeared to largely agree that Christopher Motlenski was the aggressor in the fight, Baumbach said she believed Ryan and Simpson seemed unconcerned after Chris fell unconscious.
“They got in [their car] and they left,” she testified. “Like there was no concern for whether this gentleman was OK.”
As of this week, Ryan’s appeal is continuing.