By Brian Rokos | | The Press-Enterprise
Published: January 6, 2018 at 10:00 am | Updated: January 6, 2018 at 11:01 am

The driver whose car had collided with that of off-duty San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Larry Falce on New Year’s Eve is accused of balling his fist and unleashing a devastating punch to Falce’s head.

The 70-year-old fell back, lifeless, and struck the rear of his head on the pavement at Kendall Drive and University Parkway in San Bernardino.

Investigators believe Falce lost consciousness before falling. He never woke up, dying Jan. 2 after being taken off life support. Alzono Smith, 30, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder.

Experts say being killed by a single punch alone – causing breathing to stop or bleeding — is rare but not unheard of.

Most of the examples of one-punch deaths in the Inland Empire found in newspaper archives included the victim striking his head on a hard surface.

That double injury, said retired Riverside County Chief Deputy Coroner Dan Cupido, is called a contrecoup.

“What happens is, the brain is usually thrown forward, causing some bleeding, and the person is unconscious for sure,” said Cupido, a coroner for 33 years.

David Franklin, a neuropsychologist at the UC Riverside School of Medicine, described one-punch deaths as “extremely rare.”

The contrecoup causes the brain to move twice from one side to the other, increasing the likelihood of serious injury, he said.

“Injuries in the back of the head can be more traumatic. It can cause a lot of damage. There are more sensitive areas such as vision pathways and the brain stem,” which controls basic functions, Franklin said. “It may not have been the punch, it may have been the hitting of the cement” that killed Falce.

The San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office had not announced the cause of Falce’s death as of Friday.

Cupido assisted in the autopsy of a man who died in a one-punch Inland case that received widespread notice because of its association with the cola wars.

In 1992, two groups watching a football game on television inside Pitruzello’s restaurant in Highgrove got into a war of words that included a Coca-Cola employee criticizing a Pepsi employee for how he dressed.

Their dispute settled down but their friends rekindled the conflict — which moved out into the parking lot. There, Randel Edward Korgan, then 23, punched Rick Fuehrer, 41, of Riverside. Fuehrer fell and hit his head on the concrete.

Fuehrer died, and Korgan eventually pleaded guilty to assault. Neither man worked for Coke or Pepsi. In October 1993, Fuehrer’s father-in-law filed a wrongful death lawsuit that named the soft drink companies as defendants along with Korgan. A judge ultimately dismissed the suit.

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