A man was stabbed to death outside the bar where he worked in Brooklyn early Thursday morning during a fight that apparently stemmed from disagreement over the two participants' dogs. Another bartender was stabbed in the neck.
Chai Eun Hillmann (pictured), a 41-year-old Korean-born, American-raised bartender, martial artist, and aspiring actor, was killed in the altercation. Daniel Pagan, who has been charged with Hillman's murder, allegedly stabbed Hillmann's coworker and fellow bartender Daniel Hultquist in the neck during the fight as well.
The three men were all at the Branded Saloon, on Vanderbilt Avenue and Bergen Street in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on Thursday. Hillmann wasn't working—he was there to see a band play, or participate in a charity poker game, according to various reports—and he brought his dog, Rocco, a miniature pinscher, along with him. Rocco was tied to the bar near Pagan's dog, Bugsy (either a poodle or a Shih Tzu, depending on what paper you're reading), and the two dogs' leashes became tangled.
Hillmann and Pagan's wife attempted to untangle the leashes, and at some point he and Pagan got into a "sort of joking" argument about whose dog would win in a fight. During the argument, Hillmann put his hand on Pagan's wife's arm, "indicating he could handle it," at which point Pagan became angry. They began to fight, and when Hultquist—playing music at the bar that night under the name Francis Brady—tried to break them apart, he was stabbed in the neck. Soon, Hillmann was stabbed, somewhere between two and eight times. He died at Kings County Hospital.
Pagan had previously spent nine years in prison for manslaughter, after being arrested for murder in 1991. A woman at his apartment—on nearby Underhill Avenue—said she was his wife, and that he's "a good guy." He has been charged with murder.
Hillmann, who like most actors in New York had appeared on a couple episodes of Law & Order, told The New York Times in 1996 that martial arts allows people to "choose whether to continue confrontation or get out of it and flee." But given the circumstances of his death, it's hard not to say that fleeing—or at least walking away—is always the better option.
Weirdly, or maybe not, I live near Branded Saloon, though I've never been inside. It's only a few months old—one of a wave of new bars and restaurants opening on Vanderbilt and Washington and Franklin Avenues as gentrification keeps up in Prospect Heights and the neighborhoods it borders. There used to be a jokey sign out front, part of its vague "Western" branding, asking people to leave their guns outside. Like most of the rest of the neighborhood, the area around Bergen and Vanderbilt isn't particularly dangerous, and the bar—which, like other bars along Vanderbilt, seems to serve a diverse crowd of neighborhood residents, of which Pagan was certainly one—doesn't exactly have a reputation as the kind of place where people get stabbed. They're having a candlelight vigil for Hillmann at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.