06/23/06

Hilton Ruiz's Family to Sue New Orleans Club

The family of late Afro-Cuban piano legend Hilton Ruiz (pictured) is suing a New Orleans club, claiming Ruiz was attacked while inside the establishment and that club bouncers failed to break up the fight or assist an injured Ruiz.

Ruiz, 54, died June 6 in New Orleans’ East Jefferson General Hospital after being comatose since May 19, when he was found outside Bourbon Street's Club Utopia with massive head injuries.

The pianist was in New Orleans to complete work on a Hurricane Katrina benefit project, the last endeavor on a long list of accomplishments Ruiz accumulated during his lifetime. Having received training in jazz, classical and Latin piano styles, his expertise was wide-ranging, from Afro-Cuban rhythms to blues. Ruiz was scheduled to play at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 24, but Paquito D’Rivera will perform in his absence.

Ruiz suffered several broken bones in his face and a broken skull, and early media coverage suggested foul play. According to a May 26 report in the Ottawa Citizen, New Orleans police stated Ruiz was the victim of a “horrendously atrocious attack.” But the incident was later called an accident when both a New Orleans police official and a Ruiz family representative released statements claiming Ruiz fell and hit a curb.

Now, however, the Associated Press reports that Ruiz’s family believes the pianist was attacked by several people in Club Utopia, while bouncers “failed to intervene in any meaningful fashion" or call an ambulance, leaving the injured pianist “abandoned" on the street. The pianist's daughter Aida Ruiz filed a negligence lawsuit against Club Utopia.

While the club denies those claims, a murder occurred just outside the establishment 10 days before Ruiz was hospitalized, police said.

Despite the lawsuit, police are sticking by their original conclusion but said they will cooperate with the family’s lawyers.

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