NEW ORLEANS – The injuries that left jazz pianist and composer Hilton Ruiz comatose in a New Orleans hospital were caused by a fall, not an attack, a representative for his family said Thursday.
"It kind of looks like he tripped or fell, and fell down and hit the curb" face-first, attorney Mary E. Howell said.
Ruiz's agent earlier this week questioned whether the injuries could have been caused by an attack. But Howell and a police spokesman said, based on witness accounts, that Ruiz fell around 5 a.m. last Friday.
Officials "are very comfortable that what happened is what was originally reported, which was that he was not a victim of a crime," Howell said. "He suffered and had an accident. It was a tragic accident."
Ruiz, whose 54th birthday is May 29, has been comatose since he arrived at the hospital. His medical problems include not only the injuries but a heart attack suffered on the way.
His agent, Joel Chriss, said Wednesday that Ruiz had a broken skull and many broken bones in his face, and also had a heart attack in the ambulance that picked him up on Bourbon Street.
The lack of injuries elsewhere made doctors suspect that Ruiz's injuries were not accidental, he said Wednesday.
Capt. John Bryson, head of the department's public information office, said earlier Thursday that because Ruiz was picked up on a medical call rather than as a crime victim, police could say only that he had fallen.
"It's horrible because it's a tragic fall. And it happens," he said.
Ruiz, of Teaneck, N.J., has been described as one of the most versatile musicians in jazz, playing bop, Afro-Cuban, stride and many other styles.
He came to New Orleans on Thursday with Marco Matute, a producer for the M27 World label, to shoot video to go along with a Hurricane Katrina benefit CD of New Orleans music, Howell said.