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Friends of stabbing victims describe an out-of control confrontation at the Rose Bowl before USC-UCLA game [Updated]

December 4, 2010 |  8:48 pm

Friends and relatives of the men stabbed before Saturday's USC-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl said they had been tailgating when a fight broke out over an errant football and escalated into a melee involving scores of people. 

Friends said a man identified as Vimal Patel, 24, was in the intensive-care unit at Huntington Memorial Hospital. Joshua Dirling, 27, was stabbed in the cheek and a knife tip was embedded in his cheekbone, but he is expected to recover, relatives said.

The two were part of a group of about 15 or 20 people who had been drinking and cooking-out since 6:30 in the morning. The group they ended up brawling with had also been there drinking since the morning, witnesses said.

The fight broke out in parking lot 1, which is located in the grassy area just north of the Rose Bowl. Source: Mapping L.A./Google maps The fight, which involved 50 to 75 people, broke out about 4:30 p.m. in Parking Lot 1 on the north side of the Rose Bowl, officials said.

Patel, a student at Cal State Fullerton, was tossing a football with a friend when the ball accidentally hit a black Mercedes-Benz belonging to someone in the other group, according to his friend Martin Keeley.

That prompted three men to come over and start a confrontation that ended in Patel being stabbed, his friends said.

Keeley said he jumped in to defend his friend.

"I grabbed the first guy I could and wrestled him to the ground," he said, the shirt he was wearing still torn and stained with blood hours later as he waited for news of his friend at the hospital.

Others also quickly joined the fray. 

"It was just people and punches being thrown," Keeley said.

Eventually, according to police, as many as 75 people from both groups  joined in the fray. 

Three men were arrested on charges of attempted murder and are being held on $1-million bail each.

Keeley's wife, meanwhile, noticed that Patel was seriously hurt and called 911.

Matthew Dirling, 27, said his twin brother was stabbed in the cheek during the fray.

"We were in the middle of it and my brother got popped in the face,” said Matthew Dirling, 27. “We were having a good time and this broke out.”

Relatives of both men said they were acting peacefully when they were assaulted and that the fight seemed to come out of nowhere.

Keeley said he and his wife, rabid UCLA fans, have attended every game for the last two years. Though police said they believed the fight was over fan rivalry, friends of the victims denied that was a factor.

There were fans from both schools in their group, they said, and the fight appeared to be sparked by an angry reaction to a misthrown football, not college rivalry.

"It was just drunken guys looking to start a fight," said Renee Breceda, who is Matthew Dirling's girlfriend.

Dirling said a plastic surgeon at Huntington hospital said the tip of the knife was still embedded in his brother’s cheekbone.

[Update 9:40 p.m.: Pasadena police have identified the men arrested as Arturo Cisneros, 44, Joshua Elder, 23, and Steven Radu, 27. Authorities initially arrested all three on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. The allegation against Cisneros was later upgraded to attempted murder. Elder and Radu were being held on suspicion of assault on a police officer.]

T.J. Simers: Perspective is lost even before USC-UCLA game begins

-- Alan Zarembo reporting from Huntington Memorial Hospital and Mike Hiserman and Ben Bolch reporting from the Rose Bowl

Map: The fight broke out in parking lot 1, which is located in the grassy area just north of the Rose Bowl. Source: Mapping L.A./Google maps