Police arrest man over assault on New Zealand cricketer Ryder

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - Police say they have charged one man with assault and are questioning another in connection with a late-night attack on New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder, who remains in an induced coma.

Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer told a news conference on Friday that a 20-year-old man had been arrested and charged with assault and a 37-year-old man was being interviewed by police. He said the men were related but would not elaborate on their relationship.

Mr Archer said police were not seeking anyone else in connection with the assault which occurred in the early hours of Thursday morning. After examining CCTV footage, police had determined that earlier eye-witness reports that as many as four men were involved were misleading.

Mr Archer said Mr Ryder had been involved in an altercation with two men as he left a bar in the Christchurch suburb of Merivale and was assaulted by one of the men after crossing the road to the carpark of a fast-food restaurant.

"A member of the public got involved to try and break up the fight and that's probably swelled the numbers from what people saw," Mr Archer said. "But I believe the altercation involved two people initially and one person in the second incident."

Mr Ryder remained in an induced coma with a fractured skull and punctured lung but his condition had been upgraded from critical to stable.

The head of New Zealand Cricket Players' Association, Mr Heath Mills, said, "Jesse is still in an induced coma and is still needing support with breathing following an injury to his lungs."

At a news conference on Thursday, Mr Archer said Mr Ryder was attacked twice in quick succession as he left a bar shortly after midnight with teammates from Wellington who were in Christchurch for a domestic cricket match.

Messages of support and hope flooded in from cricketers and fans around the world. The incident has appalled New Zealanders, including Prime Minister John Key.

The 28-year-old Ryder has fought a high-profile battle with alcohol and his international career has been punctuated by disciplinary problems. He has made himself unavailable for the New Zealand team since February, 2012, withdrawing from international cricket to tackle alcohol and fitness issues and other personal problems.

While Mr Ryder has not spoken publicly about those issues, friends say he had turned his life around in the past 12 months.

But Mr Mills revealed on Thursday that after quitting alcohol, Mr Ryder had begun drinking again in recent weeks. Mr Mills said steps had been taken to provide support for the cricketer.

"He has drunk some alcohol over the last three or four weeks at one or two events," Mr Mills said.

"We all know Jesse has struggled with some demons... It has been made very clear to us by police that Jesse was having a few drinks with his team mates at the conclusion of their season ... but the actual assault was not alcohol-fuelled.

"There has been a support programme around Jesse in the last week while, and some well-qualified medical people have been supporting him. I know of specific instances where Jesse has been drinking, but I'm not willing to comment on that," Mr Mills added.

Police said on Thursday that there was no evidence at this stage to suggest that alcohol was a contributing factor to the assault.

The New Zealand media quoted witnesses as saying the assault on Mr Ryder appeared to be unprovoked and one, Mr Regan Harvey, described the incident as a "Jesse-hate fight".

"As I walked out, there were a couple of guys beating up this one guy on the ground," Mr Harvey told Fairfax media. "As far as I can tell Jesse has done nothing wrong here. It looked like it was completely unprovoked."

Mr Archer said police had interviewed witnesses and were investigating.

"We believe at least 10 or more people have witnessed some of the events," he said. "There are CCTV cameras in the area and we're going through the process of downloading and reviewing that footage so we can have a clearer picture of what has taken place."

Police had established what they believe was the sequence of events around the assaults, Mr Archer said.

"An altercation has taken place on the footpath outside Aikman's (bar) involving Jesse and a group of at least two other males," he said. "The altercation was brief."

Mr Archer said following that incident, Mr Ryder and two other people walked towards a McDonald's restaurant where some of his teammates were buying food.

"A second altercation has taken place at the entrance to the McDonald's car park, involving one of the males from the earlier group," he said. "In that incident it appears Jesse has been the victim of a serious assault and has suffered head injuries as a result."

Many leading cricketers used Twitter to express their concern for Mr Ryder.

West Indies star Chris Gayle posted in a Twitter message: "Will have Jesse in my prayer. Pray for Jesse. Let's hope he gets better soon."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: "Devastating news regarding Jesse Ryder. Just hope he can pull through. Thoughts are with him and his family."

Mr Ryder was due to leave New Zealand on Friday to take up a US$260,000 (S$322,000) contract with the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. He has played 18 tests for New Zealand, scoring three centuries and six half centuries with a top score of 201 against India.

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