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Man Charged In Uber Driver's Death Was Defending Himself, Attorney Claims

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A man appeared before a judge Monday in the death of an Uber driver over the weekend.

As CBS2's Jessica Borg reported, police said Kohji Kosugi, 39, of the East Village, used a hockey stick to bludgeon Randolph Tolk, 68, of West New York, New Jersey while the Uber driver was stopped at a red light outside Chelsea Piers Sunday morning.

Police said two witnesses saw what happened, and said there is also surveillance video to prove it.

Kohji Kosugi
Kohji Kosugi, 39, is charged manslaughter on allegations that he attacked Uber driver Randolph Tolk, 68, with a hockey stick. Tolk later died. (Pool Photo)

Tolk allegedly got out his vehicle to confront Kosugi after Kosugi hit the side of his car with the hockey stick at the intersection of Eleventh Avenue and 20th Street. During the quarrel, police said Kosugi hit Tolk with the stick.

"He fell on the ground. The guy put his foot on his chest, held him on the ground," said Fernando Mateo of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.

Tolk then got back in his car and drove half a mile before crashing into a median on the West Side Highway at Horatio Street.

Randolph Tolk
Randolph Tolk, 68, died after he was hit by a pedestrian with a hockey stick and went on to crash his Uber car. (Credit: Tolk Family)

The grandfather of three was rushed to a hospital where he later died.

But defense attorney David Jeffries said, "Mr. Kosugi is not the cause of the very unfortunate, tragic outcome."

Kosugi's attorney said the fact that Tolk was able to drive means that his client's blow to Tolk's head didn't kill him.

Prosecutors believe the violent attack disoriented the West New York grandfather – a claim echoed by Mateo hours after Tolk's death.

"If he wouldn't have gotten hit, he wouldn't have died. So we don't know the reason for his death was, but we believe it's associated with the blow he took to the head," Mateo said Sunday.

Kosugi's lawyer said Tolk was not following "the rules of the road," and that is what led to Kosugi hitting the car with the stick.

While it is not clear what words were exchanged during the confrontation, the defense claims Tolk started it -- though Tolk apparently did not have a weapon in hand.

"Unfortunately, the driver played a very large and outsized role in how things got to the place they got to," Jeffries said. "The driver was the initial aggressor and that Mr. Kosugi reacted in what could be considered a reasonable fashion."

Kosugi's lawyer asked the judge that his client be released on his own recognizance -- because Kosugi has no prior criminal record, he had supportive family members in the courtroom, and he is an educated doctor who is gainfully employed.

But Jeffries would not say what field of medicine he practiced, if any.

Kosugi's wife left the courtroom without a comment.

Tolk's family has described him as a loving father and grandfather.

The judge set bail at $500,000 cash.

"This guy belongs in jail, he's a punk to say the least," Mateo said of the suspect Sunday. "It was cowardly, the disregard and disrespect for the elderly in this city has grown and continues to grow. We need to put a stop to it."

The New York City Medical Examiner's office has not yet released the cause of Tolk's death.

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