AUSSIE DEATH: ‘Any girl, he tried to touch them’
STATEMENTS obtained exclusively by news.com.au from a British bar manager and a sex worker in the seedy Thai beach resort of Pattaya have raised fresh doubts about the circumstances and motive behind a vicious bar fight that left an Australian man dead last month.
Melbourne man Benjamin Robb died on the evening of February 9 at the Ruby Club, a licensed venue in Pattaya's notorious Soi 6 laneway, after he was punched and kicked repeatedly by a second patron, American Jose Manuel Polanco.
Polanco claims he attacked Robb in self-defence after he saw the Melburnian strangling a sex worker with so much force that her face had turned blue and her feet were dangling off the ground. Polanco fled the scene after the attack but surrendered to police an hour later. He was subsequently interrogated and charged with manslaughter and is now being held on remand while awaiting court.
But earlier this month, Rungarun Saensuwan, the sex worker Robb allegedly strangled, told Thai police the two were only "playing around" before Polanco threw the first and only punch. "He was not attacking [me]," she said in an interview with Thai media that was later confirmed by AAP.
If Saensuwan's evidence is believed by the court, it could see Polanco's manslaughter charge upgraded to murder - one of 35 crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed in Thailand.
Polanco had previously been convicted of manslaughter for killing a man in Miami in 1993.
However, the British manager of Horny Bar, another licensed venue on Soi 6 who also had an altercation with Robb prior to his death, has cast doubts on Saensuwan's claim that Robb was just "playing around".
"He came here for a drink first before he went to the Ruby Club," said the manager, who identified himself as Lloyd. "He was extremely drunk and aggressive. We have one girl working here who is very small, only about four feet tall and she looks quite young.
"When he saw her he accused her of being underaged and started yelling at everyone. We tried to calm him down by showing him her ID card but that just made him angrier and he smashed his fist down really hard on the table where she was sitting. She was really frightened."
Robb then walked about 50m down Soi 6 to Ruby Club, and according to another witness, assaulted several sex workers on the way.
"I saw him walking here," said a sex worker who identified herself as Fern - a generic female alias in Thailand. "He [was] making lots of trouble. Any girl [who was] on the street, he tried to touch them. He touched their boobs and [vaginas]. He [was a] very bad man."
CCTV footage of the assault at the Ruby Club is yet to be released. But according to onlookers, Polanco stomped on Robb's head repeatedly after knocking him to the ground.
"Bar stools were flying everywhere and I'm pretty sure some other customers and maybe even girls were hit. The guy was totally out of control," a witness wrote on the Pattaya 24/7 Facebook group.
Lloyd said Polanco was in a highly agitated state after the fight: "He was crying out loud. People were telling him 'run, run' and he did."
After Polanco left, several people attempted to help Robb stand and prop him up on the bar. "He was flinching and convulsing," Lloyd said. "They thought he would he would be all right if he had another drink, but the guy was dying."
After paramedics were called, Robb was taken to a nearby hospital where he later succumbed to traumatic brain injury.
Lloyd said Robb's behaviour was not unusual among some Australian men holidaying in Pattaya.
"When they get really drunk, they lose control" he said.
The incident has further defiled the reputation of Pattaya - a once-tranquil fishing town southeast of Bangkok. It first boomed during the Vietnam War as an R&R destination for US soldiers and is now considered the sex capital of the world - as well as a haven for criminals.
Shaun Davidson, an Australian man who escaped from Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison last June who is also wanted by Perth police over outstanding drugs charges - is thought to be hiding out in Pattaya.
In recent years, the city has also become the regional headquarters for outlaw motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels and Finks after the gangs were squeezed out of Australia by police.
In 2016, CCTV footage was broadcast of three large caucasian men believed to be Australian Hells Angels viciously beating two Thai men in broad daylight in Pattaya following a traffic altercation.
In 2015, former Sydney Hells Angel member Wayne Schneider was found buried in a shallow grave in Pattaya. Australian kickboxer Antonio Bagnato was later found guilty in a Thai court of abducting and murdering Schneider and sentenced to death.