State police were still uncertain Saturday about the cause of death for James Rochford, 42, a father of three who died Friday night at Tiny’s Restaurant & Lounge in Santa Fe following a fight broken up by Santa Fe police.
Family members were shocked and devastated by the man’s death, describing Rochford as a talented man with good humor who was in good health and not the type to engage in violence.
Tiny’s patrons had reported to police dispatchers Friday that Rochford was intoxicated and confrontational. Santa Fe police arrived at the bar shortly after 5 p.m. Friday and reportedly separated people involved in the fight, and Rochford died shortly after. Deputy Chief John Schaerfl said at about 8 p.m. that the inside of the restaurant was being treated as a possible homicide scene, and state police were called in to take over the investigation.
Witnesses — about two dozen bar patrons and employees — and Rochford’s body remained in the bar as investigators processed evidence at the scene. At about 9 p.m., all of the witnesses were bused to state police headquarters to be interviewed.
State police Lt. Robert McDonald said the investigation is still under way, and no further details were available.
James Rochford’s father, also named James Rochford, said the death of his 42-year-old son was unexpected. “I thought he was in good health,” Rochford Sr. said during a phone interview Saturday afternoon. “I don’t know.”
His son was generally peaceful, he said. “For him to get into a fight, that’s unusual.”
The elder Rochford said his son was living in Corrales, but had just gotten a job Jan. 1 working as a contractor for the state Taxation and Revenue Department in Santa Fe.
Rochford Sr. said he had never heard of Tiny’s, located at the intersection of Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive, so he couldn’t say if his son had visited the bar often.
He said his son had three children: 19-year-old and 13-year-old sons and an 11-year-old daughter. His son was divorced, he said, and the children were in the custody of their mother.
Rochford Jr.’s ex-wife, Debbie Rochford, said Saturday that the children were devastated. In a written statement, Debbie Rochford and her children said the bar fight didn’t reflect the way James Rochford had lived.
“He was a talented computer programmer and had a promising career,” the family said in the statement. “He had a wonderful sense of humor, making him a blast to be around. He was always willing to give to those who were in need. His close family and friends will miss him dearly.”
Efforts to speak to employees and the owner of Tiny’s on Saturday were unsuccessful, but the bar was open for regular hours Saturday night.