A drunken brawl in a Rose Bowl parking lot before the USC- UCLA football game Saturday sent two men to the hospital with stab wounds and three people to jail, one of them on suspicion of attempted murder, authorities said.
The fight started about 4:30 p.m. in parking lot 1 on the north side of the Rose Bowl, where dozens of people had been tailgating and drinking since 6:30 a.m. in advance of the game that evening.
Police called to the scene found 50 to 75 people fighting, said Cmdr. Darryl Qualls of the Pasadena Police Department. It took more than 15 minutes to break up the brawl, resulting in minor injuries to two officers, Qualls said.
“It was just people and punches being thrown,” said Martin Keeley, 32, who said he was a friend of one of the stabbing victims, whom he identified as 24-year-old Vimal Patel.
Patel was stabbed eight times in the back and was in the intensive care unit at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Keeley said. Joshua Dirling, 27, was stabbed in the cheek, according to his twin brother Matthew. Hospital officials did not provide information Saturday about the conditions of the men.
Witnesses said the fight broke out after a group of tailgaters — including Patel, a student at Cal State Fullerton — threw a football that accidentally hit a black Mercedes-Benz belonging to another group of fans who also had been partying for hours.
Three men from the other group confronted Patel, his friends said, and at some point began stabbing him.
Keeley said he jumped in to defend his friend.
“I grabbed the first guy I could and wrestled him to the ground,” he said. Hours later, as Keeley left the hospital, his shirt was still torn and stained with blood from his split lip.
Others quickly joined the fray. Patel’s group numbered about 20; the other group included about 40, witnesses said.
“We were in the middle of it, and my brother got popped in the face,” said Matthew Dirling, 27. “We were having a good time and this broke out.”
Relatives of both men said that they were acting peacefully when they were assaulted and that the fight seemed to come out of nowhere.
Keeley said he and his wife, ardent UCLA fans, have attended every Bruins home game for the last few years.
But though police initially said they believed the fight was over fan rivalry, friends of the victims denied that was a factor.
“It was just drunken guys looking to start a fight,” said Renee Breceda, who is Matthew Dirling’s girlfriend.
Dirling said a plastic surgeon at Huntington Memorial Hospital told him the tip of the knife is still embedded in his brother’s cheekbone, but that it was best to leave it there until doctors see how the wound heals.
Joshua Dirling was expected to be released Saturday night.
Police arrested Arturo Cisneros, 44, on suspicion of attempted murder. Joshua Elder, 23, and Steve Radu, 27, were arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Maritsa Bonilla of Los Angeles, who also witnessed the melee, said it escalated quickly.
“It was very hard to control,” Bonilla said.
More than two hours after the fight was broken up, the scene resembled a giant fraternity party.
Music blared from speakers underneath a cardinal-colored tent as people danced.
Nearby, fans clad in USC and UCLA T-shirts milled about sipping drinks next to a large-screen television in the back of an SUV tuned to the game.
Times staff writer Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.