Is property owner liable in fatal beating?
Teen beaten to death early Saturday morning at bonfire in woods
Deep in the woods off Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville police say, a brutal beating took place, one that killed 19-year-old Ryan Ford and turned his family's life upside down.
Police said the fight that killed Ford (pictured, below) happened during a bonfire party early Saturday morning on the property. Evidence of that party remains there -- trash littered around the site.
According to the property appraiser, the lot is vacant and owned by a man who lives in St. Augustine. The property is appraised at more than $3 million.
That man did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Police said the property has became sort of a hangout for young people.
"Police were not foreign to this. They had been called their before, truancy, some other incidents, but nothing to this magnitude," said Lt. Rob Schoonover, of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
So what is the responsibility of the landowner to keep people off his property and out of potentially fatal situations?
"You might know people were trespassing, but you certainly didn't know people were trespassing and intending to kill somebody," attorney Dale Carson said.
Carson, who is not connected with this case, says whether the owner knew people were trespassing or not, he had no reason to believe anyone would get hurt, and the people throwing the party were not supposed to be there, even though there's not a no trespassing sign out front.
"Generally in the state of Florida, there's no duty owed by the landowner to a trespasser," Carson said. "I don't think as a landowner you're obligated to provide 24/7 protection to prevent people from coming on your property. I think that's part of the policing function."
Police have charged 25-year-old Christopher Hoffman with manslaughter and 22-year-old Robert Cline with battery causing bodily harm.
Attorney John Phillips, who says he was retained to represent Cline, released a statement Tuesday:
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Ryan Ford," Phillips wrote. "We plan to let the justice system address the events of that night. Not only is the report of Mr. Cline initiating contact with Mr. Ford inaccurate, but he and others tried to stop the altercation that lead to Mr. Ford's death. Mr. Cline has and will continue to cooperate with the State Attorneys' Office."
A viewing for Ford will be held from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at St. Johns Family Funeral Home, 385 State Road 207, St. Augustine. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Anastasia Baptist Church, 1650 State Road A1A South, St. Augustine.
Ford's friends are to hold a memorial bonfire Friday night at the family home. A VyStar Credit Union account was set up for hospital bills and funeral expenses. It's under his name at account No. 7029766009.
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