He was a young, athletic tennis instructor at Kim Grant Tennis Academy. His wife of two years said he was a peaceful person who only went out once every few weeks, according to a police report.
But on Friday morning, Oleg Talamai was pronounced dead after more than two weeks on life support at Stanford Hospital. The Palo Alto resident succumbed to injuries that he suffered during a Dec. 21 brawl outside a downtown Palo Alto bar.
Talamai was reportedly was out for a good time with a friend at The Patio bar on Emerson Street when their lives intersected with four other young men's outside the establishment. An altercation ensued. Then a single punch to the head -- so loud it was heard from 75 feet away, according to police who were patrolling the area near Lytton Plaza -- knocked him to the ground. When the officers ran to him, he was flat on the pavement, his eyes unresponsive. He never woke up.
"I was just drunk," the alleged assailant, Neil Brian Rotroff, also known as Neil Brian Alamban, told police regarding why he didn't just walk away.
Rotroff, a 28-year-old father who lives with his mother and fiance in Cupertino, initially faced a charge of assault with a deadly weapon for punching Talamai. On Friday, after Talamai was pronounced dead, the District Attorney changed the charge to involuntary manslaughter.
A 21-year-old Sunnyvale resident* faces charges of assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon for allegedly nearly striking two officers with his vehicle as he, Rotroff and two friends fled the scene. The Sunnyvale man now also faces a felony count of being an accessory to involuntary manslaughter for his role as a getaway driver.
"I was hella scared," Rotroff told police, after he saw Talamai lying unconscious. He just wanted to go back to his kids, he said.
A police report reveals the details of the incident. Too much alcohol, an argument -- no one knows about what -- and perhaps young male pride led to the events that changed the lives of the three young men.
Rotroff and his three friends had started their evening at a Cupertino billiard hall or bowling alley -- described alternately in police reports -- on Dec. 20 to celebrate the recent return of one of the men from serving in the U.S. Army, they told police. They each had two or three beers, with the Sunnyvale man, the driver, having one. At about midnight, they went to The Patio and had a few more strong drinks.
Talamai and a friend, both Belarus immigrants, were also there drinking, according to police reports.
As the bar neared closing time one of the men from Rotroff's group, a Ukrainian immigrant, asked to bum a cigarette from the pair. The initial contact was amicable and conducted in Russian, according to the report. But Talamai apparently got into an argument with three men from the group. No one recalls or will say what the argument was about. According to Rotroff and his friends, Talamai allegedly slapped one of Rotroff's friends on the head. Rotroff and Talamai had heated words.
Palo Alto police who were nearby intervened, according to the report. The friends on both sides kept the two apart. Separately, they told police they were going to go home.
As Rotroff and his friends crossed Emerson to leave in the Sunnyvale man's white Honda, Talamai and his friend walked south toward the parking lot near the Aquarius Theater. The two were allegedly hollering insults toward Rotroff and his friends, so the four men walked back to confront them.
At that point "the fight is inevitable," the Sunnyvale man told police. Rotroff said they probably returned to "earn back our pride or something."
Versions of what happened next vary. As the exchange became more heated, one of Rotroff's friends told police he tried to diffuse the situation. He said he pushed Talamai's friend away by the shoulder because he was allegedly making things worse.
But the victim's friend told police that he was struck, which the Sunnyvale man confirmed in his statement to the police. Rotroff, who was probably bumped during this altercation, fell to the ground, the Sunnyvale man said.
When Rotroff got knocked down, the Sunnyvale man said he knew the confrontation was going to escalate.
"Neil is not going to just let that go," he told police.
Rotroff, who is 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, stood up and handed his cigarette to a friend. Talamai, 24, a tall and lanky man, was squaring up with him and allegedly punching him, according to the police report.
The blows did not hurt, Rotroff said, but he felt he needed to act in self defense. He delivered a blow that a witness described as a "right cross" to the victim's head, sending Talamai to the pavement.
Talamai sustained a fractured skull and bleeding in his brain, and he underwent brain surgery, according to the police report.
Talamai's family has not returned requests for comment, but his employer, Kim Grant, described him as "an amazing person and coach, and he touched a lot of lives."
"(He) is the warmest, most sincere person. He brings sunshine into every life he touches. (He) loves life, tennis, people and is such a positive person! We all admire his amazing spirit, joyful energy and generous heart! Even though I am his mentor, he has taught me much through his wonderful spirit," she wrote in an email.
Rotroff told police he is sorry for his actions. He admitted that he has been in some other fights, even being punched unconscious, according to the police report. But he said he had never knocked anyone else out before.
He said he understands that he should have been a bigger man, but he felt he was being bullied. He also was upset that Talamai and his friend were insulting Rotroff's friend who had just returned from service in the Army. If anything, he told police, they should be respecting him.
Rotroff and the Sunnyvale man, who posted bail after their initial arrests on Dec. 21, are presently out of custody, according to police. They are due in court on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to [email protected] or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the Palo Alto Police Department's free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.