Chargers' Phillips Badly Beaten

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Joe Phillips, the Chargers' 6-foot-5, 315-pound starting nose tackle, was hospitalized after being severely beaten by three men early Wednesday when he left a Mission Beach restaurant.

Dr. Lee Rice announced through a team spokesman that Phillips suffered a fractured nose, fractures to the eye orbit, a concussion and multiple bruises and abrasions. Rice said Phillips will undergo surgery to repair damage to his nose and eye orbit within the week.

Police had earlier reported that Phillips also had skull fractures and three broken ribs, but the Charger spokesman said those reports were inaccurate.

It is not known how long Phillips will be hospitalized, but Rice said he is not expected to return to practice for at least eight weeks. The Chargers placed Phillips on the reserve non-football injury list and signed safety Michael Brooks. The club has the option of not paying Phillips, but General Manager Bobby Beathard said, "The club never considered it. He will be paid.

"My God, it's tragic to have something like this happen," Beathard said. "From what I've been told, he got the living hell beat out of him."

Phillips, known for his tough-guy image, is considered the Chargers' strongest player. "Those guys must have been sneaky or tough," defensive line coach Gunther Cunningham said.

Said Charger defensive lineman Les Miller: "It's a big city, and it can happen to anybody. What can you say? You feel bad, you feel anger and you feel helpless. I hope they find out who did it. I know I'd like to find them."

No arrests have been made, but police have interviewed at least three people who witnessed the incident, police spokesman Bill Robinson said. He declined comment on whether any suspects have been identified. The witnesses will be interviewed again today, police said, because of conflicting accounts.

A motive has not been determined, but Phillips was not robbed, Robinson added.

Robinson said Phillips, 27, was being treated in the intensive care unit of Sharp Memorial Hospital, but a hospital spokeswoman would not release his condition or even confirm that Phillips was there.

Police said the attack occurred sometime after 1 a.m. when Phillips was walking to his car after leaving Saska's, a restaurant at 3768 Mission Blvd. A witness told a Times reporter the incident occured between 2:15 a.m. and 2:30 in Saska's parking lot, a block north of the restaurant.

Phillips was transported by ambulance to Mission Bay Hospital and later transferred to Sharp.

Police said Phillips was accompanied by a woman at the time of the attack and that she was also assaulted. A Mission Bay hospital spokesman said no woman required medical treatment at the time Phillips was admitted. Police declined to identify the woman but said she was not Phillips' wife.

The witness, who detailed Wednesday's incident for the Times but asked not to be identified, said a car pulled up and parked on the street next to where Phillips and the woman were walking. Several residents said the area has recently been plagued by crime.

Words were exchanged between Phillips and the assailants, police said, and the assailants jumped Phillips. The three men, one wearing steel-toed boots, beat and kicked Phillips repeatedly, Robinson said.

The witness said that Phillips was knocked to the ground and that the woman was kicked repeatedly by one of the assailants. The witness said Phillips' T-shirt was ripped from his body.

At that time, the witness said, a second assailant smashed the windows on Phillips' car with his fist, and a third attacker chased after a man who was walking toward the scene.

"They weren't big like him," the witness said. "They were small guys."

After the assault, the witness said, the three men got into the car and drove off. The witness said Phillips got up shortly after and, with assistance from the woman, was able to walk to the ambulance, which arrived about five minutes later.

"There was just blood all over his face," the witness said. "It was not a pretty scene. It was pretty bad. He was pretty shaken up. The girl was really freaking out. It was gross."

The witness said the woman screamed: "I can't believe you're hitting a girl, I can't believe you're hitting a girl."

Police and the witness were unclear whether the assailants were armed or if Phillips was able to fight back.

Tom Saska, a partial owner who of the restaurant who was not there at the time, said Phillips comes in about once a week. He said a bartender told him Phillips entered the restaurant after midnight and ordered food.

Saska said Phillips called him from the hospital Wednesday, explained the incident and asked if Saska knew the assailants or had seen them before. Saska said he did not.

"He said he got the . . . beat out of him," Saska said. "He sounded pretty upset. It doesn't make sense. I've worked at Saska's for 17 years, and nothing's ever happened like that around here."

Phillips talked briefly with police Wednesday and is scheduled to be interviewed in more detail today.

"We have not completed the investigation," Robinson said.

Phillips spoke with Cunningham and defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. But his wife, Cynthia, told the media Phillips would be unavailable for comment.

Coach Dan Henning told his players of Phillips' situation earlier Wednesday but said he was sketchy on details.

Phillips, who has been attending law classes at the University of San Diego while playing football, joined the Chargers as a replacement player during the players' strike in 1987. He has started 38 of the past 45 games.

"Les (Miller) will be the nose guard on first down, and George Hinkle will be the starter on third down," Cunningham said. "But Joe was having a great season; he was playing outstanding football. He's the life of the party so-to-speak--that's the part I miss already."

Staff writer T.J. Simers contributed to this story.

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