A suspect in the fatal beating of Kim Pham, a 23-year-old aspiring writer who was beaten to death by a group of people outside a Santa Ana, Calif., nightclub, faces murder charges while police continue the search for four other suspects.
Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, was arrested on Monday and pleaded not guilty to murder on Wednesday during her court appearance.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Pham was waiting in line to get into The Crosby nightclub on Jan. 18 when an argument broke out between her and a group of people. Pham’s friends said she accidentally “photobombed” the group, who were trying to snap a photo outside the club. The group got into a verbal argument with Pham, and then it turned physical.
Police said during the brawl Pham was knocked onto the ground and someone kicked her in the temple. When she fell to the ground, the suspects fled.
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"Two or three of the female suspects knocked her to the ground, were physically assaulting her and kicking her, and they fled the scene," Santa Ana Police Department spokesperson Cpl. Anthony Bertagna told KABC.
“The victim was kicked about her body and her head, and that’s when she went unconscious,” Bertagna told KTLA.
A female witness said the altercation happened while onlookers watched. According to CBS Los Angeles, someone was even recording the brawl on video.
“The video clip that somebody posted online, that’s the same time we walked out of The Crosby,” the witness said. “Everybody was just standing around recording her, cheering people on, [saying] ‘Fight.’ [Pham's] other friends were there trying to help out, pull people off of her.”
Pham was taken to a hospital where she was declared brain-dead. She was on life support until Tuesday when her family took her off it after donating her organs. The Santa Ana coroner said Pham died of complications from blunt-force trauma to the head.
Police are still searching for four other suspects involved in the fight after apprehending Zavala, a mother of a 5-year-old boy.
According to the Los Angeles Times, though, Zavala said she was also a victim in the brawl. Her defense attorney Kenneth Reed said Zavala was “devastated” about the 23-year-old’s death and was not involved in the attack.
"Your day is fine, your life is fine. You have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday night with your boyfriend. Then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed," Reed told the L.A. Times, adding Zavala was knocked onto the ground during the fight.
Zavala’s bail has been set at $1 million and she faces up to 15 years in jail if she is convicted, local news source KTLA reported.
The Santa Ana City Council is offering a reward of $10,000 for information about the four other suspects in the death of Pham. Santa Ana Police described the suspects as Hispanic between the ages of 20 and 25, according to KABC.