JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A weekend tragedy has a family mourning the loss of their 19-year-old son who died from injuries he got during a fight at a bonfire.
"Right back here is some woods and a big abandoned property with a lake. I know they have bonfires and parties out here....it's, you know, for teens to go off where nobody can see them," Donald Sharp told our news partner Action News.
A large group of teens was having a bonfire in a wooded area off Old St. Augustine Road here in Mandarin when fights broke out and when it all cleared, people started to notice that Ryan Ford was lying on the ground unconscious. Sharp, who lives in the area, says he had friends at that party who saw it all happened.
"They were off to the side and then they heard the commotion. They ran over to start breaking it up and then they noticed another individual laying on the ground and he wasn't breathing, wasn't really responding. Then that's when they got him, threw him in the back of the SUV...they were part of the whole getting him to the hospital part."
Ford was taken to Baptist Hospital South, which is right across the street, to Shands Jacksonville where he died from his injuries. 22-year-old Robert Cline II was arrested and charged simple with battery. 25-year-old Christopher Hoffman was charged with manslaughter for his part in the fight. Police say there was alcohol present at the party and that some of the people drinking were underage. It's not clear what, if any, part alcohol played in Ford's death.
Investigation revealed that Cline had blindsided Ford with a punch to the face, and then Hoffman came in and continued to beat Ford until he was unconscious. JSO says there were multiple fights taking place at the same time.
We trekked into the woods in the area and came upon a large clearing next to a small pond with empty beer cans that looked recently discarded and a charred patch of dirt and debris where there may have been a bonfire. It was tucked back into the woods along Old St. Augustine Road, well away from the road and interstate. You can see video Matt shot from the area by clicking on the first related link at the top of the page marked "possible bonfire site."
A search of the Duval County Property Appraiser's website revealed that the land belongs to Philip B. Genovar of St. Augustine. A message was left on Mr. Genovar's home phone and so far he has not responded.
A listener emailed WOKV saying his teenage daughter told him the area is a popular spot for kids, especially for swimming in the summer. He said she used to go there with friends during the summer only to swim but does not anymore because police were ticketing cars parked in front of the gate to the JEA substation, where the entrance of the trail to the clearing is. He said apparently there also had been a rope swing near the water at one point, but that it had been cut down because someone got hurt while using it.
At a Monday press conference, Jacksonville detectives said they're asking for anyone and everyone else who was at the party on Friday night to come forward and talk to them as they try to piece together the events that led up to the fights breaking out during the party. Lt. Rob Schoonover with JSO's homicide unit told us they're still not sure why the fights started, which is why they need help.
The party, which JSO said had been advertised on Facebook a week in advance, had over 50 people in attendance. Lt. Schoonover says the wooded location where they partied has been known to be a gathering location for teens and young adults in the past and that police have responded to calls at that location. They are investigating if there have been any number of noise complaints that have come from the area.
Lt. Schoonover would not comment on whether there would be any more arrests because of the ongoing investigation.
If you were at the bonfire this weekend or you know someone who was, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office would like to speak with you. Call 630-0500 or submit your tip anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS (8477).