WJTV News Channel 12 - Fatal July 4 bar fight suspect makes first court appearance

Fatal July 4 bar fight suspect makes first court appearance

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A man arrested in connection with a July 4th death outside a Morehead City bar made his first court appearance Tuesday morning.

Stephen Gomola, 23, of Morehead City is charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Steven Ray Johnson, 23, at Jack's Waterfront Bar in Morehead City.

Gomola waived his right to a court-appointed attorney, bringing his own attorney to court.

Carteret County district attorney Scott Thomas says Johnson got into a fight with one of Gomola's friends at the bar after a beer bottle was thrown into the water.

Thomas says Johnson pushed one of Gomola's friends, at which point Gomola stepped in and punched Johnson two or three times in the head and neck area. Johnson fell into the water and drowned. An autopsy showed he died of drowning, and blunt force trauma was a contributing factor in his death, said Thomas.

"During the course of that fight, one of the people involved in it went into the water. That's why Mr. Gomola is charged with involuntary manslaughter, as opposed to a murder charge, which is more of an intentional killing type of event," said Thomas.

Gomola was placed in jail under $25,000 secured and $25,000 unsecured bonds.

Officers said the 911 call to the bar was initially reported to them as a subject in the water. Morehead City Fire and EMS assisted by Atlantic Beach Fire and EMS responded with a water rescue attempt.  

Morehead City Police officers and the Dive Team responded in the recovery effort after it was determined the incident was no longer a water rescue.

"I feel awful about it," said Fabian Botta, the owner of Ruddy Duck Tavern, the bar next door to where the incident happened. "The families--both families involved in this have a terrible tragedy to go through."

9 On Your Side reached out to Jack's Waterfront Bar, but the owner said she had no comment out of respect for the privacy of the victim's and suspect's families.

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