Nearly two years after a Palo Alto tennis instructor was killed during a fight near a Palo Alto nightclub, the case against two men charged in the incident has come to a close with the release from probation of one of the men and the sentencing of the other to one year in jail.
A Sunnyvale resident* has completed six months of volunteer work and payment of restitution under a plea agreement he made on April 22 in which he admitted to misdemeanor accessory to a crime after the fact. He was originally charged with a felony count of accessory to involuntary manslaughter for his role as a getaway driver and for assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon for nearly striking two officers with his car as he and his friends fled the scene of the incident.
The man and a friend, Neil Brian Rotroff of Cupertino, and two other friends became involved in a brawl with two other men in a parking lot near The Patio nightclub on Emerson Street in Palo Alto on Dec. 21, 2014. Rotroff decked a man, Oleg Talamai, a 24-year-old Palo Alto tennis instructor, with a single punch, causing him to strike his head on the pavement. Talamai sustained a fatal head injury and never regained consciousness. He was removed from life support on Jan. 9.
Rotroff was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He and the Sunnyvale man originally pleaded not guilty in July 2015. But in April 2016 they changed their pleas to no contest, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office. Rotroff was sentenced to a year in county jail, to do voluntary work and to pay restitution in August.
The case highlighted the human costs of young persons engaged in heavy drinking. All of the men were in their 20s.
Talamai was out with a friend at The Patio bar on Emerson Street when he encountered Rotroff and the three friends. All six of the men were reportedly drunk, according to police.
As the bar neared closing time one of the men from Rotroff's group, a Ukrainian immigrant, asked to bum a cigarette from Talamai and his friend, who were both from Belarus. 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 recalled or would 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 exchanged 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. But as Talamai and his friend allegedly shouted insults to the four men as they walked to their vehicle, Rotroff and his party returned to confront Talamai and his friend.
Versions of what happened next vary. One of Rotroff's friends told police that, as the exchange became more heated, he tried to defuse the situation. He said he pushed Talamai's friend away by the shoulder because he was allegedly making things worse. But Talamai's friend told police that he was struck, and the Sunnyvale man confirmed that in his statement to police. Rotroff, who was probably bumped during this altercation, fell to the ground, the Sunnyvale resident said.
Talamai allegedly punched Rotroff, although the blows were not effective. Rotroff, who is 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, then allegedly punched Talamai once in the head, sending the lanky tennis instructor to the pavement.