While a large number of Americans are being vaccinated daily nationwide, health officials are recommending we still follow safety measures including social distancing. But despite the recommendations and the known benefits of social distancing in stopping the spread of COVID-19, some individuals refuse to follow precautions and resort to violence when confronted. In a recent incident, a high school hockey coach died after being punched outside of a bar in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 17 following an argument about social distancing, the Star Tribune reported.
According to officials the victim, identified as 48-year-old Michael G. Ryan, sustained a fatal brain injury after being punched and falling backward down a set of stairs and hitting his head on concrete as a result. The man who punched him, 44-year-old Ryan Whisler, was charged with second-degree murder Monday. Witnesses told officials that Ryan confronted Whisler about not social distancing in the bathroom, to which Whisler reacted in violence, first grabbing Ryan's shirt and then trying to pull his mask off before punching him.
The altercation started when Whisler, using the bathroom at the same time as Ryan, punched a hole into cellophane that was placed over a urinal to promote social distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. After punching the cellophane, Whisler took a video of himself urinating into it. While Ryan did not initially approach him in the bathroom, he called Whisler out for his actions as the two left the bar.
According to the criminal complaint, the verbal confrontation quickly took a violent turn. Before striking Ryan, Whisler “took a lot of verbal abuse,” NBC News affiliate KARE11 reported. Witnesses told officials that they tried to separate the two and a friend of Whisler attempted to direct him away before he punched Ryan in the face. After Ryan’s friend said he was calling the police, Whisler and his friend fled in a vehicle.
After being diagnosed with a brain injury at the hospital, Ryan was removed from life support on April 18. According to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office, Ryan's cause of death was a traumatic brain injury because of the assault and subsequent fall. The death was ruled a homicide.
A day after the incident, Whisler turned himself in to St. Paul Police. He is being held at the Ramsey County Jail on $500,000 bond.
Ryan coached the Bloomington Jefferson High School girls’ hockey team. In a post on Twitter the team noted that Ryan leaves behind a hockey community that will deeply miss him, along with a wife and daughters. The team gathered outside the town ice arena Monday night to share memories of their coach and process what happened. “It’s hard to fathom,” Josh Levine, Bloomington Jefferson’s assistant girls varsity coach, told theTwin Cities Pioneer Press.
According to a 2016 Sun Current article, Ryan played for Bloomington’s Jefferson High School’s 1989 championship hockey team and coached for years. Levine noted that he was not only a caring individual but one who wanted to see his players develop.
Unfortunately, violence and confrontations as a result of lack of social distancing or observing safety precautions meant to lower the spread of COVID-19 are not uncommon. Since the start of the pandemic, many individuals have resorted to violence in response to not wanting to follow regulations in place. Nationwide, individuals have been caught on video harassing or hitting frontline workers or others who have confronted them for their lack of wearing a mask or social distancing.
While Americans are being vaccinated in record numbers, this virus is far from over. We must continue to observe the recommendations health officials have provided. Violence is never the answer. May Michael Ryan rest in peace.