Owner calls Chowchilla bar fight death 'a tragic accident'; charges still pending

CHOWCHILLA — Chowchilla Police say details are sketchy about a bar fight that turned deadly Saturday night, resulting in the city’s first homicide this year.

Meanwhile, the owner of the business where the incident occurred said the death was an accident — even though one man is facing homicide charges.

Police responded to Farnesi’s Steakhouse on the 200 block of East Robertson Boulevard at 10:29 p.m. and found 50-year-old Bruce Eckerfield, lying on the floor with bruises on his face and a laceration on the back of his head. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Chowchilla Police Sgt. David Noblett.

Shortly afterwards, police arrested suspect John Raviscioni, 28, at a residence on the 9700 block of Heatherhearst Drive. Raviscioni was booked into Madera County Jail on charges of first degree homicide.

The crime has no possible gang overtones, Noblett said.

Its still unclear what started the fight between the two men. He said witness reports about whether Raviscioni and Eckerfield knew one another are conflicting. “That’s still under investigation,” Noblett said. “Right now everything is really preliminary. We just don’t have any information at the moment.”

Noblett did not say how Raviscioni allegedly killed Eckerfield, other than saying it was a physical fight and no weapons were involved.

Matt Zimmer, owner of Farnesi’s Steakhouse, said he does not believe the incident was murder. “It was just a tragic accident,” Zimmer said. Zimmer said he is also friends with the families of both the suspect and the victim. He refused further comment about the incident.

Investigators are awaiting autopsy information from the Madera County Sheriff’s Department, Noblett said. Efforts to resuscitate Eckerfield at the scene proved futile, Noblett said.

The homicide is Chowchilla’s third to occur within the past 12 months and the first one this year. Prior to 2007, the city had gone for 12 years without a single homicide, Noblett said.

“Homicide’s arent something we’re used to dealing with here,” Noblett said. “It’s a small, tight-knit community. Obviously crime can happen anywhere, but it’s a big city crime that you don’t see in small communities that often.”

A phone call was place to Eckerfield’s home, but a family member replied “no comment.”

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.