🔺 NJ man takes plea deal in diner death

🔺 78-year-old man was punched, fell and later died

🔺 Family of victim mourn 'good man with a good heart'

LACEY — A 57-year-old Monmouth County man has admitted to punching another man who later died after falling to the pavement outside a diner.

On Thursday, Edward Chandler, of Manalapan, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in connection with the death more than three years ago of 78-year-old Robert Clarke.

News of the deal was first reported by Asbury Park Press and confirmed by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

Ocean County arrest

🔺 78-year-old man was punched and fell outside diner, died hours later

Clarke’s adult children have been active in the court proceedings and have said they were "sickened" by the plea bargain instead of a trial.

Plea bargaining is common in criminal justice proceedings and must be accepted by a judge.

"My dad was a good man with a good heart... Everyone that met him loved him," Kristina Clarke said in an online exchange with New Jersey 101.5 News on Monday.

She continued "Unfortunately, A 54-year-old bully decided that it was OK to suck or punch a 78 year old man."

Prosecutors have said that in October 2020, Chandler and Clarke were outside the Lakeside Diner in Forked River after an argument had erupted inside between "members of a motorcycle club."

While in the parking lot, Chandler punched Clarke, knocking him to the ground.

Clarke was airlifted to Jersey Shore Medical Center, where he died early the next morning.

The former owner of the diner has said that the fatal situation unfolded differently than what has been shared by the prosecutor's office.

🔺'Not like that at all': Diner owner on parking lot punch 

"None of this should have happened - none of those people ever came inside," former diner owner Brian Brindisi said to New Jersey 101.5 News in a phone interview on Monday.

"Nothing took place in the restaurant... the way it sounds — it was not like that at all," Brindisi continued, saying that Clarke had been outside in the parking lot the entire time.

Lakeside Diner property in Forked River (Google Maps)
Lakeside Diner property in Forked River (Google Maps)

Read More: NJ man charged for throwing deadly punch outside Lacey diner 

According to the Asbury Park Press, Chandler's defense attorney submitted to the court a report from a forensic pathologist who said Clarke's death appeared to be related to a pre-existing condition.

🔺 Family of victim ‘sickened’ by plea deal

A week before the plea hearing, Kristina Clarke said on Facebook "This isn't the Justice our family was hoping to see.”

Robert RJ Clarke (courtesy Kristina Clarke)
Robert RJ Clarke (courtesy Kristina Clarke)

Chandler's defense attorney had elicited support from community members in getting him released from jail after his arrest in 2020 on an aggravated manslaughter charge.

Kristina Clarke has urged loved ones to write impact letters on the loss of her father, "an avid motorcycle rider" and "member of the Blue Knights," a law enforcement motorcycle club.

Brindisi said what was truly awful was that "This guy, RJ, was the nicest man," who had come out to enjoy an event of live bluegrass music outside when he was "snuck" with a punch by Chandler.

Kristina Clarke similarly said that her father was outside, enjoying music with friends, when turmoil broke out, involving name calling and violence.

"My dad was merely telling them — that's not how you treat people or talk to them," when he was "sucker punched" by Chandler.

Robert Clarke's son, Shawn, also previously told the Asbury Park Press that their father died defending a friend during an argument.

Brindisi said after over 30 years in the restaurant business, involving a number of Ocean County establishments, he wound up selling the diner, after all the turmoil following the tragic situation in the parking lot — on the heels of pandemic shutdowns and legal battles.

The state will be recommending three years in prison at Chandler’s sentencing scheduled for March 15.

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