Conversation among soccer fans over post-match cheesesteaks escalated into a brawl that left a 28-year-old killed and his father and another man injured near the iconic Pat’s King of Steaks in South Philadelphia, police said.
“It was just mayhem,” said Pat’s owner Frank Olivieri after viewing security footage of the deadly confrontation. “I’m never going to get this vision out of my mind that I watched on the videotape.”
Early Thursday, people in soccer jerseys are seen on tape eating cheesesteaks, talking among themselves, seemingly getting along. They included the 28-year-old man, identified by police as Isidro Cortes of Queens, and his 64-year-old father, as well as a friend of the son, said Philadelphia police.
The trio got into an argument with four men wearing the yellow jerseys of Club América. The Union lost to the Mexico City team in Chester on Wednesday in the Concacaf Champions League semifinal, and police said the victims had attended the game before stopping for cheesesteaks.
The four Club América fans then beat the three men, bludgeoning one to death with hands, fists, and a metal trash can lid, police said.
Cortes, who lived in the Corona neighborhood, worked as an accounts payable associate at Omnicom Health Group in Jersey City, according to his LinkedIn. He had taken classes at Baruch College and Borough of Manhattan Community College, where he was part of an accounting club.
Police do not believe at this time that Cortes, his father, or the other person in their group knew the people they were talking to before the violent incident. Instead, video shows the groups eating cheesesteaks and chatting with each other. The situation did not appear hostile.
“All of a sudden it went sideways,” said Homicide Capt. Jason Smith. “When it went bad, it went real bad.”
Inside Pat’s, a manager heard the sounds of a scuffle, Olivieri said, and ran from the takeout window to a back office to see what was going on along the side of the building. The manager called the police and yelled to the group that she had done so, which broke up that fight, Olivieri said.
But behind Pat’s along Wharton Street, unbeknownst to the manager and out of view of others, was what appeared to be another beating still ongoing, Olivieri said.
Police said they received a report of a “person screaming” at 1:56 a.m. When officers arrived, they found the Cortes unresponsive on the street with head trauma. Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.
Other responding officers found his father and the other man injured. They were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in stable condition, police said. Smith said police haven’t yet been able to talk to the surviving victims.
At the restaurant Thursday morning, Olivieri said he was still trying to wrap his head around how an argument over a game could end with a man being beaten to death.
“People, not only in Philadelphia but in other places, when it comes to sports are crazy. Crazy loyal,” Olivieri said. “I guess if you’re out late at night, and you’re heated about your sports team, things get out of control.”
“People don’t know how to talk anymore,” he added. “There’s no app to stop a fight.”
There was likely alcohol involved, too, Police Chief Inspector Scott Small told reporters, and individuals appeared drunk on the surveillance video, according to Olivieri.
“Sometimes when alcohol is involved, there are fights. We’ve been here in the past for fights,” Small told reporters. “Normally, these are well-run businesses that are quite safe. People just come here for a good steak sandwich. However, every once in a while, you get a fight that escalates into violence.”
A car left at the scene has New York plates, Olivieri said. Aside from the three who were injured or killed, he said, no one in the group remained on the scene.
The owner said a cellphone, beer cans from which DNA could be recovered, and other personal items were left behind. Olivieri said he also has nearly 40 surveillance cameras around the store that captured everything.
“They’re all HD,” he said. “Their faces are clear as day. It’s only a matter of time until they’re apprehended.”
Police said they believe the assailants are men in their 20s, and ask anyone with information to call the homicide unit at 215-686-3334, dial 911, or report anonymously at 215-686-8477. Officials have released photos and video of the suspects and attack.
This is the second time someone has been killed at Pat’s in the last two months. In late July, David Padro Jr., 22, was fatally shot outside the establishment. His father said Padro, of Camden, was in Philadelphia with his girlfriend to go to a nightclub when they stopped to eat and an argument broke out over a parking space.
Paul C. Burkert, 36, of Reading, was charged with murder in Padro’s death. Burkert’s girlfriend, Jamie E. Frick, 36, of Newmanstown, Lebanon County, was also arrested.
Olivieri said there’s not much more he can do to prevent these tragedies from occurring outside his 24-hour shop, a takeout restaurant with no indoor seating. He hopes, he said, that cooler heads can prevail in the future, and verbal confrontations don’t escalate to violence.
“Ideally, you hire security. And then the security person makes the wrong decision, you’re liable there, too,” Olivieri said, noting his employees are trained not to intervene in confrontations. “We’re not professional bouncers. We sell cheesesteaks.”
Staff writers Chris Palmer and Juliana Feliciano Reyes contributed to this article.