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Deputy killed by a punch isn’t the only one – other deaths show even single punch can be traumatic, experts say

By in Press Enterprise on January 6, 2018

By Brian Rokos

The driver whose car had collided with that of off-duty San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Larry Falce on New Year’s Eve is accused of balling his fist and unleashing a devastating punch to Falce’s head.

The 70-year-old fell back, lifeless, and struck the rear of his head on the pavement at Kendall Drive and University Parkway in San Bernardino.

Investigators believe Falce lost consciousness before falling. He never woke up, dying Jan. 2 after being taken off life support. Alzono Smith, 30, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder.

Experts say being killed by a single punch alone – causing breathing to stop or bleeding — is rare but not unheard of.

Most of the examples of one-punch deaths in the Inland Empire found in newspaper archives included the victim striking his head on a hard surface.

Retired Riverside County Chief Deputy Coroner Dan Cupido. (Courtesy photo)

That double injury, said retired Riverside County Chief Deputy Coroner Dan Cupido, is called a contrecoup.

“What happens is, the brain is usually thrown forward, causing some bleeding, and the person is unconscious for sure,” said Cupido, a coroner for 33 years.

David Franklin, a neuropsychologist at the UC Riverside School of Medicine, described one-punch deaths as “extremely rare.”

The contrecoup causes the brain to move twice from one side to the other, increasing the likelihood of serious injury, he said.

UC Riverside School of Medicine neuropsychologist David Franklin. (Courtesy of UC Riverside)UC Riverside School of Medicine neuropsychologist David Franklin. (Courtesy of UC Riverside)

“Injuries in the back of the head can be more traumatic. It can cause a lot of damage. There are more sensitive areas such as vision pathways and the brain stem,” which controls basic functions, Franklin said. “It may not have been the punch, it may have been the hitting of the cement” […]    

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