MOREHEAD CITY, CARTERET COUNTY - Alcohol was a contributing factor in the drowning death of a man outside a Morehead City bar on the Fourth of July, officials said.
According to an autopsy report, 23-year-old Steven Ray Johnson, of Dunn, had a blood ethanol level of 300mg/dL, the equivalent of a 0.3 percent concentration.
Johnson was found dead in the water outside Jack's Waterfront Bar, at the corner of Evans and 6th Streets, after an altercation on July 4, according to police.
Johnson's cause of death was ruled as drowning with blunt force trauma to the head being a contributing factor. But the doctor who performed the autopsy said he believed Johnson's blood alcohol concentration, combined with the blow to the left side of his face, incapacitated him enough to result in his death.
The doctor also noted that Johnson may have been unconscious before he hit the water due to the force of the blow to his head. The victim fell about 8 feet, according to the autopsy report.
Arrested for Johnson's death is 23-year-old Stephen Gomola, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
During Gomola's first court appearance on July 16, he was told he could face up to 33 months in prison if convicted. Gamola was being held under a $25,000 secured bond and a $25,000 unsecured bond, but has since been released.
District Attorney Scott Thomas said an argument over a thrown bottle led to Johnson's death.
According to Thomas, it all started at about 11 p.m. on July 4, when one of Johnson's friends tossed the bottle into the water. A friend of Gomola then told that person to stop, causing Johnson to push Gomola's friend, Thomas said. Finally, Gomola stepped in and hit Johnson in the neck, chest and shoulder areas, causing him to fall in the water, Thomas told NewsChannel 12.
"In this case, Mr. Gomola did strike the victim at least two or three times, at which point, the victim goes overboard and goes into the water," Thomas said. "Nothing that we have seen indicated that Mr. Gomola acted in self defense."
Gomola was a former basketball star at West Carteret High School. He was named the Carteret News-Times Player of the Year for the 2006-2007 season. Gomola also played basketball at Pitt Community College.
Johnson was laid to rest at Wesley's Chapel Church Cemetery on July 8. He is survived by his parents, brother and grandparents.
According to Johnson's obituary, he graduated from South Johnston High School in 2008. He then attended Florence-Darlington Technical College and UNC Pembroke to play baseball. Johnson was named All Conference MVP at Florence-Darlington in 2010.
Jack's Waterfront Bar has since reopened.