Punch that led to man’s York Co. death in 2014 could be worth $1M; judge to decide

A judge in York County has a decision to make, but it’s not guilt or innocence. Eric Cobb is in prison. Cobb threw the punch outside a Rock Hill bar that ultimately led to the 2014 death of Vietnam veteran Odell Fields.

The only issue is money. A judge must decide how much to award Fields’ family in a wrongful death lawsuit. The lawyers say they want $1 million – at least.

The punch, thrown in the parking area outside the Sandbar where the death happened, was caught on surveillance video and played Wednesday in court.

“Here you see Mr. Fields empty his beer out on the ground ... then Mr. Cobb takes one last gulp of his beer... then he runs up and you can see the punch and (Fields) goes down,” said David Manzi, the lawyer for Fields’ family, as he narrated the video in court. “Then, you can see Mr. Cobb celebrating and he says, ‘One punch -- that’s all it took.’ ”

Cobb is serving 15 years after pleading guilty in criminal court in late 2014. The civil lawsuit is a separate action.

Judge Jack Kimball must decide punitive and compensatory damages in the wrongful death suit filed against Cobb, the Sandbar, and the bartender, Jose Cintron.

All three defendants failed to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed last year. So they defaulted on any chance at defense against the claim that the single punch killed the 66-year-old Fields, Kimball said Wednesday in court. An order signed by another judge last month showed a default judgment against all three defendants who failed to respond to the lawsuit within legal time constraints, court records show.

Neither Cobb nor the bartender were in court Wednesday. A lawyer for the bar attempted to get the default judgment overturned, saying it is clear that it was Cobb alone who caused the death, but Kimball said the court record is clear the bar and other defendants did not act in time under the law.

That means Fields’ family now is entitled to have a dollar judgment decided, Kimball said in court.

Manzi said after court Wednesday he will ask for at least $1 million for Fields’ family, which includes a wife of 44 years whose health declined after her husband was killed.

Johnny Fields, Odell Fields’ son, in court described his father as twice wounded in Vietnam after volunteering to join the Marines. Odell Fields was awarded the Bronze Star for valor after he saved another Marine by holding the man’s abdomen together during a firefight, his son said. Fields later worked for Hardee’s restaurants and at an auto plant. He retired just before he was killed.

“He lived his life by the words treat others as you want to be treated,” Johnny Fields said of his father.

Kimball asked lawyers for the bar in court Wednesday to submit a proposed amount of damages, and Fields’ lawyer to submit a proposed amount. A decision will be made in about two weeks.