Witness who filmed brawl testifies in Kim Pham beating death trial

A memorial for Kim Pham in downtown Santa Ana in late January 2014.
A memorial for Kim Pham in downtown Santa Ana in January 2014.

SANTA ANA – A man who shot a now-ubiquitous cell phone video of the chaotic Crosby bar brawl in Santa Ana earlier this year testified in the trial of two women charged in Kim Pham’s beating death Thursday morning.

But, like how that video has been interpreted as showing two different narratives of the brawl, the witness’ statements seem to show that making a definitive analysis of what happened in that “crazy scene” may prove difficult.


The altercation has received national attention for something many people think could have been so preventable: What began as two strangers bumping into each other soon turned into an all-out melee that left a young woman dead.

Pham, 23, who was with a group of friends, was left comatose, dying days later from blunt force trauma to the head, according to authorities.

Santa Ana residents Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 26, and Candace Marie Brito, 27, have been charged for her death, with counts of second degree murder and assaulting with force likely to cause great bodily injury.


Witness Darwin Arayata, who did not know any of the individuals in the fight, testified that he was in line at the Crosby, a now-shuttered nightclub that was then part of downtown Santa Ana’s trendy bar scene, in the early hours of January 18, 2014, when he heard a verbal exchange farther back in the line.

When asked by defense attorney Michael Molfetta, who is representing Brito, if he saw Pham raise her hand to strike the girl she was arguing with, Arayata testified yes, strengthening a narrative that has emerged that Pham may have threw the first punch in the scuffle.

Arayata said that from there, the scuffle escalated as several fights broke out, most notably that of Pham and the other woman, Amelia, a friend of Brito and Zavala’s, of which Brito and Zavala soon entered the fray, at times, to battle Pham.

The prosecution emphasized that Arayata told Santa Ana detectives soon after the brawl that he believed that Zavala and Brito kicked Pham on the head.

The defense, however, tried to cloud this by playing the video several times Thursday and pointing out that he did not have a clear view of the brawl, as other people were obstructing his view.

When cross-examined by attorney Kenneth Reed, who is representing Zavala, Arayata said, “I did not see a kick land on the head.”

Molfetta, the other defense attorney, said that the phrase “it looked like” was the closest Arayata could come to saying he saw the kicks when he was interviewed by police detectives in January.

By Tim Worden

Published July 10, 2014 at 4 p.m.

One reply on “Witness who filmed brawl testifies in Kim Pham beating death trial”

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