Ex-Sailor Who Fatally Punched Taxicab Passenger Acquitted - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Ex-Sailor Who Fatally Punched Taxicab Passenger Acquitted

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An ex-Navy sailor who punched a 25-year-old taxicab passenger after a near collision with the car he was driving -- resulting in the victim's death -- was acquitted today of assault and involuntary manslaughter.

Sam Bonsu, 36, was originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of Nathaniel "Nat" Ward, but a jury last year acquitted him of that charge and voluntary manslaughter.

Jurors today found that Bonsu was not guilty of any crime.

"Sam was put in a really bad position, and he had to defend himself," defense attorney Gary Gibson said after the verdict. "But he'll always regret participating in a fight where somebody died."

As Judge John Thompson read today's verdicts, Bonsu lowered his head toward the defense table.

Ward's mother began to cry uncontrollably, at one point blurting out, "He (Ward) was just reaching for his wallet."

Deputy District Attorney Corine Miesfeld told the jury that a car Bonsu was driving cut off the taxicab in which Ward and three friends were riding in about 2 a.m. last May 24.

The prosecutor said Bonsu was angry and followed the cab to an apartment complex in Pacific Beach and confronted the victim's group.

She said Bonsu yelled at the group, then punched Colin Costanzo in the mouth and Ward in the head. Ward was declared brain dead May 29.

Gibson said Bonsu punched the men in self-defense.

The attorney said Ward and his friends were "hammered" after a night of celebratory drinking at a local bar, and Bonsu was sober and was driving with a date to buy some bottled water when the fight occurred.

Gibson said the victim's group took 20 minutes to call the police because they were drunk.

The prosecutor said Bonsu -- who, according to his attorney, had been insulted by the cab's occupants -- yelled to Costanzo, "Hey dude, what was that all about? What the hell?"

As Costanzo turned his back to pay the cab driver, Bonsu punched him in the mouth, splitting a tooth and putting a hole in his lip, Miesfeld said.

Bonsu -- who at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds was much larger than any of the victims -- punched the 5-foot-5 Ward so hard in the temple that it cracked his skull, the prosecutor said.

Bonsu -- who had been out of the Navy for six years -- made a mistake by getting out of his car after his date said someone kicked the vehicle, Gibson said.

Gibson said Bonsu punched Costanzo after the man walked toward his client and raised his hand. After that, someone hit Bonsu with a brown bag and he "hit whoever was closest," Gibson said.

On the witness stand, Costanzo testified that Bonsu approached and started yelling at him after the Scion came out from a side street and narrowly avoided hitting the taxicab.

"He said `Who flipped me off?"' Costanzo said.

"I told him, I don't know what you're talking about. You need to calm down," Costanzo testified.

The witness said he turned his back on Bonsu and leaned into the cab to pay the driver.

"I started to stand up and I was hit from behind," Costanzo said.

Costanzo said he was knocked face-down into the front seat and was "seeing stars" before getting up and realizing Ward had been punched to the ground.

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