As Josh Gunderson lay dead in a pool of blood in a hotel bathroom in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, his friend Ashley Jones tried to arrange a flight home to Minnesota, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Thursday in Washington County District Court.
When a concierge at the Sheraton Hotel entered the room where Gunderson and Jones were staying on spring break, she saw Jones "squatting, trying to close a suitcase and talking on her cell phone," she told authorities.
The concierge, Lourdes Becerra Perez, asked what Jones was doing and was told: "I'm going to the airport now." Zachary Jensen, who was traveling with Jones and Gunderson, told Perez that Jones' parents were "trying to get her a flight to go back home."
The concierge's statement was included in a lawsuit filed against Jensen; Jason Jones, Ashley's father; and Jones' company, Sterling Systems, of Golden Valley.
Gunderson, 20, a University of St. Thomas freshman from Stillwater, died March 24 after he apparently slipped and hit his head on the bathroom floor. A spokesman for the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico, said in March that it appeared to be an accident.
But the Gunderson family's civil suit alleges that Jensen and Gunderson "had a physical struggle or confrontation" and that Jensen caused Gunderson to "aspirate on gastric contents, asphyxiate and die." Gunderson had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, according to a forensic pathologist's report included in the lawsuit.(By comparison, a Minnesota driver is legally drunk with a level of 0.08.)
Jensen told Perez he was awakened by Jones screaming "Get off of me!" Jensen said he saw Gunderson attacking Jones and that when he intervened, Gunderson attacked him.
He told Perez: "That's why I came down here, to protect her."
Jensen, 27, a mixed-martial arts fighter who has appeared on Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter," was Jones' father's chauffeur and was in Mexico working as Jones' bodyguard, according to the attorney for the Gunderson family.
Jensen had bloodstains on his T-shirt, hands, arms and right leg when Perez came into the hotel room, according to her statement.
"I just defended myself, he was attacking me and it just happened, I tried to give him breath from my mouth and tried to give him CPR but he didn't respond at all. I can't believe! This should not happen," Perez said Jensen told her.
The Gunderson family claims Jensen and Jones were the last people to see Josh alive and the pair have refused to communicate about the events leading to Josh's death.
Jones left Mexico before police could question her and has been served with a subpoena compelling her deposition testimony, said John Magnuson, the attorney for Liz Gunderson-Koll, Gunderson's mother.
Attempts to reach Jones and Jensen by phone were unsuccessful Thursday night.
Gunderson-Koll said not knowing what happened to her son has been heartbreaking.
"It tears you up inside," she said. "Here she is packing her suitcase as my son is lying there. Now, I'm just angry. Josh, right now he doesn't have a voice, so we're his voice, so we will find out what happened and we will get justice for him."
Gunderson-Koll, who lives in Stillwater, said more information about Gunderson's death — including Jensen's statement to Mexican police — would be released this morning at a news conference at Magnuson's law office in Stillwater.
Gunderson was a hockey captain at Stillwater Area High School, where he graduated in 2007. He attended St. Mary's University of Winona before transferring to St. Thomas.
Gunderson and Jones had a class together at the University of St. Thomas and had become friends, Gunderson-Koll said. Gunderson had spent time with Jones at her house in Minnetonka and they had watched the movie "Twilight" together.
"I hadn't met her, but he had talked about her," Gunderson-Koll said. "He said, 'I don't want a girlfriend right now, but she's nice.' "
Gunderson's family is asking for more than $50,000 in the lawsuit, but the ultimate goal of Thursday's legal action is to find out what happened to Josh, Magnuson said.
"They are seeking the truth as to how and why this very special and promising young man ended up dead in a pool of blood on the floor of a Mexican hotel room," he said. "The ultimate goal of the family is ... making sure that justice is done in his memory."
Mary Divine can be reached at 651-228-5443