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Surfer’s friend testifies about fight

A friend of a professional surfer who died last year after being punched during a fight in La Jolla testified Wednesday that he arrived on the scene just before a man hit the victim, causing him to fall backward and crack his skull open.

Dylan Eckardt testified as a prosecution witness on the third day oftrial for 22-year-old Seth Cravens, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Emery Kauanui.

Eckardt, who described himself as one of Kauanui’s best friends, testified that he drove to Kauanui’s home at the corner of Genter Street and Draper Avenue about 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 2007, after the 24-year-old victim had called to tell him of a “beef’’ at the home.

“He was frantic,’' Eckardt said of Kauanui. “He just wanted me to get

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there.’'

Eckardt testified that he pulled up and got out of a car driven by his girlfriend, Karen Loftus, and immediately realized that Kauanui was on the ground surrounded by a group of people with someone kicking him.

He said Kauanui got up and started yelling at a man with a bigger build from about five inches away.

The bigger man, who was standing on a curb, hit Kauanui in the face, knocking him backward and causing him to crack his head open on the street, Eckardt testified.

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“It was one of the hardest punches I’ve ever seen thrown,’' the witness said. `"He (Kauanui) was out ... I think ... before he hit the ground.’'

Eckardt said he and his girlfriend fled the scene, and she called 911 to report the assault.

Rebecca Speaks, who lived in a duplex above where the fight occurred, said she was awakened around 1:30 a.m. by yelling and voices and three unusual sounds, including a frightening `"thunk’’ that prompted her to call 911.

“It was scarier than anything I had heard before,’' she testified.

“In addition to the second-degree murder charge, Cravens faces 10 counts stemming from incidents of violence dating back to 2005 and unrelated to Kauanui’s death. He faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of the murder charge.

The defendant is accused of punching the victim after Kauanui and another man, 21-year-old Eric House, fought in front of the victim’s mother’s home.

Kauanui died at a hospital four days later.

Three other La Jolla men -- Orlando Osuna, 23, Hank Hendricks, 22, and Matthew Yanke, also 22 -- piled into a car with Cravens and House to fight Kauanui after Kauanui spilled a drink on House at the nearby La Jolla Brew House, according to prosecutors.

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Osuna, Hendricks, Yanke and House -- part of a group of La Jolla High graduates called the Bird Rock Bandits -- were also charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in connection with Kauanui’s death and were sentenced to local time in custody.

Yanke and Hendricks are expected to testify for the defense.

Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge said in her opening statement on Monday that what happened to Kauanui was a tragedy but did not rise to the level of murder and was in fact self-defense.

Testimony is continuing today in the courtroom of Judge John Einhorn.