'He kept hitting him': Suspect held for court in beating death of Erie 80-year-old

The reason behind a beating at a downtown Erie intersection in August that led to an 80-year-old man's death remained unknown on Friday as the suspect appeared in court for his preliminary hearing.

But the viciousness of the attack was described in detail by two men who witnessed the assault.

Both witnesses identified 30-year-old Erie resident Luis A. Salome-Gonzalez as the person they saw, on the afternoon of Aug. 18, hitting 80-year-old Timothy L. Smith with a plastic trash can liner and punching Smith multiple times.

"It was just a bloody mess," one witness, James Farley, said of what he saw after he stopped his vehicle to come to Smith's aid.

The assault happened on the northwest corner of East 11th and French Street near the Erie City Mission, which the Erie County Coroner's Office said was Smith's last known address. The assault also happened across the street from Friendship Towers, the residence of Farley and the other witness who testified, Shaun Lingenfelter.

Smith died at UPMC Hamot on Sept. 13. The Coroner's Office ruled his death a homicide due to complications of blunt force trauma to the head "due to an assault by a known assailant." Smith had been in a coma since the attack.

Salome-Gonzalez was initially charged on Aug. 18 with aggravated assault and related offenses. Following Smith's death, Erie police withdrew those charges and charged Salome-Gonzalez with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering, simple assault, possession of an instrument of crime and disorderly conduct.

Erie 2nd Ward District Judge Ed Wilson held Salome-Gonzalez for court on all charges following Friday morning's preliminary hearing. He remains in the Erie County Prison without bond.

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'He flipped him over and started punching him'

Investigators said the assault happened during an altercation between Smith and Salome-Gonzalez on Aug. 18 at about 2:25 p.m.

Farley testified that he was driving east on East 11th Street when he saw Salome-Gonzalez pull a plastic trash can liner out of a trash can at the intersection and strike Smith on the back before he pushed Smith to the ground, turned him over and started punching him.

"He flipped him over and started punching him and punching him and punching him in the face, and it was terrible," Farley testified under questioning by the prosecutors, Gregory Reichart and Steven Liboski, both assistant district attorneys.

Farley said he stopped his vehicle and he and his fiancee went over to check on Smith. He said he believed Smith was punched 15 to 20 times, and when they found him blood was coming out of Smith's ears and his eye sockets were "destroyed."

Farley said he last saw Salome-Gonzalez running toward the Erie City Mission.

He said under cross-examination by Salome-Gonzalez's court-appointed lawyer, Mark Del Duca, that he didn't see what started the assault and did not hear Salome-Gonzalez or Smith say anything.

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'Two gentlemen being awful loud'

Lingenfelter, the other witness, testified that he had exited Friendship Towers to have a cigarette when he saw "two gentlemen being awful loud," with screaming and yelling, near the parking garage across the street. But he said he could not hear what the two were saying.

Lingenfelter said he saw Salome-Gonzalez attempt to pick up a metal city-owned garbage can, but he couldn't lift it because it was too heavy. He said Salome-Gonzalez then pulled out the can's plastic liner and strike Smith in the face and chest area with it before he hit Smith multiple times.

Lingenfelter said he ran over to the two in an attempt to stop the attack, but by the time he got to the other side of the street, the assault was over. He said he told Smith to stay with him and tried to get Smith to tell him his name.

Lingenfelter said as he was trying to revive Smith, he turned and saw Salome-Gonzalez running the opposite way toward the Erie City Mission.

Erie police Patrolman Hayden Foltz testified that he was on patrol when he was flagged down and told of the assault. He said police were given a description of the suspect, and he later located Salome-Gonzalez, who matched the description, in a parking area of the Erie City Mission.

Foltz testified that Salome-Gonzalez had blood on his left hand and appeared to have a speck of blood on his face.

When Del Duca asked Foltz under cross-examination to describe Salome-Gonzalez's mental state, he said Salome-Gonzalez, whom he had dealings with in the past, was "kind of erratic." He said Salome-Gonzalez was hard to understand, mumbled, and spoke both in English and Spanish.

Contact Tim Hahn at thahn@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Testimony in 'bloody' fatal beating of Timothy Smith, 80, of Erie