Preliminary hearing

Candace Marie Brito arrives for a preliminary hearing with co-defendant Vanesa Zavala (not shown) at the West Justice Center in Westminster. Brito and Zavala are charged in the beating death of Kim Pham in front of a Santa Ana nightclub. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / February 10, 2014)

A pathologist testified Monday that she couldn't say for sure what killed a recent college graduate who died after an altercation outside a Santa Ana nightclub.

Kim Pham could have died as a result of being punched, kicked or hitting her head on the sidewalk during the violent Jan. 18 altercation, Dr. Etoi Davenport said.

"There were blows to the head, more than one, and as a result of that she passed away," Dr. Etoi Davenport testified, describing the violence that left Kim Pham comatose. Pham later died after being taken off life support.

The testimony came during a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to order two women to stand trial for murder. Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala have pleaded not guilty.

Davenport, who performed the autopsy on the Chapman University graduate, said Pham died as a result of blunt force injury to the head.

The pathologist said investigators at the scene told her that Pham was fighting with another person outside the Crosby nightspot in downtown Santa Ana when the melee began.

"They told me she was fighting with one person and went down on the ground. There was a punch that occurred and she was kicked by another and she became unresponsive," Davenport said officers who were at the scene told her.

The Jan. 18 incident has drawn widespread attention and put city officials in crisis mode as they quickly sought to reassure the public that downtown Santa Ana, an increasing vibrant night scene, is a safe destination.

Defense attorneys contend that Pham threw the first punch as she waited with friends to get into the nightclub. The prosecutor, though, said it is irrelevant who threw the first punch.

The hearing is set to continue Monday afternoon.

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Adolfo.flores@latimes.com