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Radford man pleads no contest to involuntary manslaughter

By TRAVIS HANDY

travis@southwesttimes.com

 

Former Radford University student Erik Stevens Czajkowski entered a no contest plea to involuntary manslaughter Wednesday to a 2011 incident leading to the death of 39-year-old Michael Allen Duncan.

The incident occurred just before midnight on Aug. 19, 2011 outside the bar Café 24. Radford City Police responded to the scene where they found Duncan unresponsive and suffering severe head trauma. They determined Duncan was struck in the face and fell backwards, hitting his head on the sidewalk.

He was taken to Carilion New River Valley Medical Center and airlifted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, but never regained consciousness. After being declared brain dead, Duncan was removed from life support and died on Aug. 22.

After an investigation, Czajkowski was charged with aggravated malicious wounding and arrested. He was released on $75,000 bond, and later charged by direct indictment with second-degree felony homicide and bond was set and posted by Czajkowski again at $100,000.

According to Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney, Chris Rehak, the Commonwealth planned to call 16 witnesses at trial. The witnesses were to include the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Duncan. He said there were few, if any, eyewitnesses to the entire exchange between the two men, and that Czajkowski told a detective who spoke to him briefly by phone he “punched Duncan after he was hit in the eye and assaulted first.”

Rehak wrote that several facts made the case challenging for the Commonwealth, including that Czajkowski had no prior criminal convictions, and that Duncan was intoxicated, had punched an employee and been forcibly removed from Sharkey’s, another Radford bar, minutes before the altercation.

According to Rehak, none of the facts were more disputed than Czajkowski’s claim that Duncan hit him first, but none of the Commonwealth’s witnesses saw Duncan hit Czajkowski. He said if a jury had believed Czajkowski, he may have been acquitted under Virginia’s self-defense laws.

Rehak’s review of the case said the Commonwealth “collaborated with the victim’s family and carefully negotiated a plea agreement in accord with their wishes.” The felony murder charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and the aggravated malicious wounding charge was lowered to unlawful wounding.

The judge in the case accepted the agreement and Czajkowski was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but one and a half years suspended. According to Rehak, he will be placed on five years active probation upon release. Restitution was paid to Duncan’s family for funeral expenses in the amount of $11,902.92 as part of the agreement.

“The Commonwealth firmly believes the assault of Michael Duncan was an unprovoked attack,” Rehak wrote. “The resulting death, by all accounts was accidental and hence involuntary manslaughter.  Securing convictions, avoid(ing) appeals and sparing the victim’s family the pain and anxiety of trial were also factors taken in to account. This tragedy highlights hazards of drinking alcohol normally overlooked. Excessive alcohol consumption tends to foster bravado, aggressiveness and violence.”