SAN JOSE -- A day before he buried his son, Lou Viri met with police and prosecutors to find out why the man who killed the 26-year-old bouncer wouldn't be facing any charges.
He didn't know what to expect when he watched the videos, taken from various establishments along a sketchy stretch of Santa Clara Street in the city's downtown night life district. But in the end, after seeing surveillance video of the whole exchange -- footage he didn't want to see until his son's killer was set free last week -- Lou Viri acknowledged that his son's stabbing death could be considered self-defense.
"The police were correct," Viri said shortly after viewing the video this week.
He saw his son Ryan Viri, pocketknife in hand, walk down the block in pursuit of a 22-year-old chef who'd just been evicted from Johnny V's bar, where the off-duty bouncer had been hanging out with friends. Bar workers said the chef -- who showed up with an attache of cooking knives that were taken away while he was there -- had been acting obnoxious, particularly toward women at the bar, and continued to cuss at employees after he was told to leave.
"I told him he needed to go, to walk away," said a bar doorman who goes by "Lucky" and declined to state his legal name. "I told him 'The only way I'm giving you your knives back is if you walk away. I'm not going to let you hang out by my customers.'"
Lucky said the chef agreed to go, but as he departed said "If I wanted to stab you, I would have by now."
"That was when I thought it was done with, he was going away," he said. "Ryan didn't say anything, he just started walking after him. Nobody saw that (Ryan) had a knife; we heard that later."
According to Lucky and Sean Blak, who also works the door, the next thing they saw was the smaller man -- Viri was 6-foot-4, while the chef is 5-foot-9 -- go at their friend with a foot-long knife, striking a fatal blow to his neck. Both said they didn't see what was caught on video -- that Viri had actually shoved the chef to the ground.
"My kid pushed him first," Lou Viri said, his voice straining. "I don't know what for, but he did."
Lucky and Blak rushed to Ryan Viri's aid, with Lucky trying in vain to stop the bleeding.
"I was pushing down on (the wound) but no matter where I pushed, the blood would start coming out of somewhere else," he said.
Viri was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital.
His family and friends, still reeling a week after Viri's death on Feb, 12, cannot fathom what happened to make a man described by many as a "gentle giant" go after the chef, who is not being named by this newspaper because he doesn't face any charges. Efforts to contact the chef were unsuccessful.
"He was a great kid, had the biggest heart of anybody you'd ever meet," said Lou Viri. "He always went with the underdog -- if someone was getting picked on, he'd step in. Nerds, rockers, gangsters -- he got along with everyone. He was always neutral."
He said his son, who grew up in South San Francisco, moved to San Jose with his girlfriend about five years ago. Though they'd broken up, Viri stayed in San Jose because he became enamored of the nightspots and the people who frequent them and wanted to one day open his own bar.
Lucky and Blak disagree with the district attorney's assessment. They think a jury might see the footage differently, that it wasn't right for their friend to die.
"That was one thing that made us feel better," said Lucky, "that (the chef) is going to get sentenced and go away. That was what made us feel a little better, and it's b.s. -- a jury would have known that even if it's a self-defense case, what (the chef) did was wrong."
Both Viri's father and his mother, Stephanie Coyle, were overwhelmed with the outpouring following their son's death. At a vigil the day after the slaying, more than 100 club and bar denizens converged at the site of the killing, and a similar number piled into a chartered bus on Wednesday and headed to Pacifica for Viri's services. Lou Viri said those friends took up a collection to pay for his son's funeral and other costs, which had garnered $6,000 in donations by the time he was buried.
"These people who hang out at Johnny V's, Ryan used to talk about them all the time," Lou Viri said. "They were like family to him. I used to not understand why he didn't move back home, but now I do."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.