(ABC)– University of Florida linebacker Cristian Garcia said “God put me in the right place at the right time” to stop the alleged sexual assault of a young woman behind the bar where he works.
Garcia, a Miami native who will be a junior and was a walk-on with the football team last season, described his night at the bar, 101 Cantina in Gainesville, Florida, as being “typical” before witnessing what appeared to be the sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman.
Garcia, who was “working security” at 101 Cantina that night, said that he was taking out the trash early Friday morning when he noticed the woman “pinned up against a dumpster” behind the bar, and that her body was limp, which indicated to him that she was unconscious. He said the man with her told him that she was his girlfriend, but that her condition told him that a sexual act was taking place without consent.
He said that friends of the man were standing around witnessing what he believed was a sexual assault.
“Nobody deserves this to happen to them,” he said.
He said that he and his co-worker, Leroyea Simmons, were forced to make a decision when they recognized what was happening. Simmons filmed the incident, and Garcia tangled with the man in breaking it up, he said.
He said that he grabbed the man “by the shoulders” and that he engaged in a physical altercation with him in a nearby alley. He said the man “began to get violent” and threw punches before he slipped and “busted his face on the floor.” He said that the man and his friends ran away after the fall.
“It was fight or flight and I just reacted,” Garcia said of his efforts to defend the woman.
He said that he appreciates the positive attention he has received for his actions, but implied that the focus should be placed on the gravity of sexual assault.
“The attention has been cool, but a horrible act happened that night,” he said.
Garcia spoke highly of the football program at the University of Florida, and said that it was focused on making “great men.”
Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias confirmed that Garcia and Simmons helped stop the alleged sexual assault and identified the suspect, Christopher Shaw, in a photo line-up, according to The Associated Press.
Shaw, 34, was in Alachua County Jail with bail set at $500,000. He was charged with sexual battery and jail records did not list an attorney for him as of Friday, according to the AP. No plea was listed in court records, but according to the arrest report Shaw denied the allegation.
Garcia recommended that anyone who might find him or herself in the same position he did should show common sense and call authorities, because of the danger of breaking up a violent act.
“Act cautiously,” he recommended.