Self-defense or murder? Lombard man makes his case about 2021 fight
Ronald Dunbar insists he didn't go looking for a fight on April 21, 2021.
He says he wasn't the aggressor that night, that he's not a violent man.
He was just a guy out for a drink with his wife at the Spring Inn in Elmhurst before grabbing a pizza to take home after helping his daughter buy her first car.
The fight -- and fate -- found him that night, he said. That he took a life, even though he said it was in self-defense, haunts him still.
Dunbar is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Karl Bomba, 28, of Yorkville. Dunbar's indictment states that he "stabbed Karl Bomba about the body with a knife."
Dunbar's attorneys plan to argue self-defense if the case goes to trial. He claims Bomba and another man he was with that night were drunk and violently attacked others inside and outside the bar. Bomba then turned in a rage and approached him outside, Dunbar said.
Witnesses and a roughly 50-second video taken from across Spring Road back up the contention that Bomba and the other man were the instigators and out of control, according to defense attorneys Daniel Cummings and Paul DeLuca. The Daily Herald is not identifying the other man because he has not been charged.
"I actually thought they might decide not to charge (Dunbar) when they saw the video and they talked to the witnesses," Cummings said. "But maybe because somebody has died they feel obligated to go forward. But I just don't feel this is a murder case. This is about as clear a self-defense case as I think you can have."
The DuPage County state's attorney's office, Elmhurst police and the other man all declined to comment, citing the case pending against Dunbar.
Dunbar, Cummings and DeLuca sat for an interview with the Daily Herald on July 28, at DeLuca's office in Oakbrook Terrace. The Daily Herald held this story until now while waiting for DuPage County Judge Ann Celine O'Hallaren Walsh to rule on a request from the state's attorney's office to prevent police reports from being made public. The Daily Herald sought the reports as part of a Freedom of Information Act request to check Dunbar's account.
Despite Dunbar's wanting his version of events shared, Walsh denied the Daily Herald's request on Sept. 23 and agreed with the state's attorney's argument that releasing the records posed an "immediate threat" to Dunbar's right to a fair trial.
Courtroom testimony from Elmhurst police officials, however, offered details on how the fight began on April 21, 2021.
It's an unusual move for a murder defendant to speak out publicly about his case before trial, but Dunbar and his attorneys believe it was the right thing and allowable under the canon of ethics.
"Here's the thing: We feel like the jury pool could be prejudiced by the coverage in the case," DeLuca said. "The mug shot (of Dunbar) looks terrible, and I think (prosecutors) are actually playing a little bit of a game, too, where they're trying to put their facts out there and some of those facts I don't think are accurate. That's why we're doing what we're doing."
A neighborhood place
Dunbar, now 57, is a lifelong DuPage County resident, a homebuilder who grew up in Elmhurst and now lives in Lombard. He is college-educated and has two college-educated kids. He's a former youth hockey coach who has "never been in trouble in my life," Dunbar said.
"I've had people from out of the blue from the community call me up and say, 'Can we testify for Ron as a character witness?'" Cummings added.
Dunbar estimates he has been going to the Spring Inn for 25 years. He describes it as a quiet, neighborhood sports bar with an older, regular clientele that probably was watching baseball that night.
"It's typical for us. We'll go there, have a couple of beers, order a pizza, pick it up and bring the pizza home," he said.
Bomba and his companions arrived about 5:30 p.m., shortly after Dunbar and his wife. Dunbar said he noticed them walk in but didn't think much about it. A little while later, Bomba and the woman he was with went into a one-person women's bathroom together.
"When it really started was when the one guy and the girl went in the women's bathroom and the bartender asked, 'Hey, buddy, you can't go in the women's bathroom,'" Dunbar said.
Bomba emerged without a mask on his face. This was earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, when the state required patrons to wear a mask unless they were at the bar or at a table.
The bartender asked him to put a mask on, Dunbar said, and that angered Bomba.
Bomba and a male companion became belligerent, Dunbar said, and the bartender asked them to leave.
"And that's when they attacked (the bartender). And it was two big guys on the bartender," Dunbar said.
The two men had the bartender in a headlock when Dunbar pulled Bomba off, he said.
"And when I let him go, he turned around and punched me in the side of the head. I never struck him back," Dunbar said.
At 6 feet tall and 205 pounds, Dunbar said he was smaller than Bomba and the other man, as well as almost 30 years older.
With help from bar patrons, the bartender pushed the two men out the front door toward Spring Road, according to police.
"We were trying to get them out the door, and at that point is when I yelled to my wife, 'Call 911,'" Dunbar said. "And as we were trying to close the door, they were trying to get back in. It took two or three of us to close the door and lock it."
Fight moves outside
Once outside, Bomba and the man tried to get back in, punching the glass windows of the bar and throwing a stool, Dunbar and his attorneys said. The video taken from across the street shows two men acting in this way with the sound of breaking glass.
The video was played in court Sept. 12, A police detective identified Karl Bomba as the one who punched out a window and a glass door.
Meanwhile, an off-duty bartender returned to the bar from downstairs, Dunbar said, "and she's yelling, 'Do they have guns? Do they have guns?' This was mayhem, what was going on. I mean, you can hear people screaming when they're dropping the glass in the video. I've never experienced something like this."
In courtroom testimony Sept. 12, a police detective said that after the window was broken, Bomba and his companions began walking toward their vehicle. But then they turned around and "squared off like they were going to punch" the bartender. One punch "might have connected to the rib area," the detective said.
According to the account of Dunbar's attorneys, Bomba got out of the car and attacked someone outside the bar.
"And then he comes toward Ron (Dunbar). And that's where the thing happened," Cummings said, referring to the stabbing. "But to us it's a complete self-defense case."
On his attorneys' advice, Dunbar chose not to speak further about what happened outside the bar.
Besides murder, Dunbar also is charged with unlawful use of a weapon. A police sergeant testified Sept. 23 that he and a detective collected a knife from Dunbar's home that night.
Walsh denied the defense's motion in July to appoint a special prosecutor for Dunbar's case, which argued that the state's attorney's office is biased because it did not charge Bomba's male companion.
Meanwhile, Dunbar, who is free on bail, has a hearing scheduled for Oct. 13 to continue defense motions to suppress his statement to police -- including that he had a knife and "he might have touched someone" with it, according to police testimony -- and other evidence.
The defense attorneys said they are leaning toward putting Dunbar on the witness stand at trial. Dunbar said he welcomes the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
Regardless of how this is resolved, Dunbar said his life will never be the same.
"I'm born and raised Catholic," he said. "I mean, taking a life is not something that I take lightly. I felt like I had to defend myself. But at the end of the day, I still feel terrible every day. I mean, I think about it every day that this guy's not around here anymore. So yeah, it's hard to live with."
• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this story.