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South Neighborhoods
2 charged after football quarrel leads to killing at Dormont diner

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A few hours after the Steelers trounced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an exchange of words about the game in a Dormont diner led to a deadly confrontation.

Authorities said James Miller, 50, an amateur magician and regular at Tom's Diner on West Liberty Avenue, was beaten into unconsciousness early yesterday in the eatery's restroom by two men from Brentwood. Miller died hours later at Mercy Hospital.

Brian Frisbie, 23, and Dustin Garger, 24, were initially charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and criminal conspiracy. Last night they were in jail as investigators awaited autopsy results to determine whether the pair would be charged with homicide. The autopsy will be performed today.

Miller, of Castle Shannon, apparently first encountered his suspected assailants when he left two companions and walked into the men's room around 2:30 a.m. yesterday.

The suspects were already inside. Police said all three men had been drinking.

Frisbie told Allegheny County homicide detectives that he argued with Miller about the Monday night football game, but the specifics of the dispute were unknown.

Witnesses in the diner told investigators they heard loud thumps from inside the bathroom and then saw Frisbie and Garger hurrying out, said Sgt. Jeffrey Korczyk.

Almost immediately, Miller was found lying unconscious inside the bathroom. There were no obvious signs of trauma.

An alert cook and several patrons helped detain Frisbie and Garger until Dormont police arrived, Korczyk said.

Garger, a self-employed window tinter, told detectives that he threw the victim against the bathroom wall after Miller got into an argument with Frisbie, according to a police affidavit. Garger said Miller crumpled to the floor.

"Some people can finish a fight and some people can't," the affidavit quoted Garger as saying.

Frisbie, who is unemployed, told police he began arguing with Miller. He claimed Miller punched him, which prompted Garger to throw the victim against the wall and then to the floor.

Frisbie said he kicked Miller once as he fell, and then repeatedly in the chest and head while Miller was motionless, the affidavit states.

"I kicked him pretty good, too," police said Frisbie told them.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan reported that a diner employee said the two accused men later bragged about beating Miller.

"When I told them the police were coming, they said 'great.' They couldn't wait to tell them what they had done," kitchen manager Dennis Brandenstein told Sheehan.

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.

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