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Couple attacked in downtown West Palm Beach New Year's Eve night

Posted at 5:05 AM, Jan 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-04 21:36:03-05

New Year's Eve was supposed to be a night of celebration.  

But instead a young couple in West Palm Beach experienced a nightmare after one of them was attacked and the other was beaten near their downtown West Palm Beach apartment.

The attack came as West Palm Beach finished off a violent year in which the city reportedly had more murders than any other city in Palm Beach County.

Police said they're investigating the case as a felony assault and hope to find the suspects.

It isn't how Hunter Hutchings imagined ringing in the new year.

"The tooth just kinda went right through my lip," he said, describing his injuries. "We were not expecting this. I mean, we've lived in downtown for seven years."

Hutchings and his girlfriend were walking home to his downtown West Palm Beach apartment on Sunday night after celebrating the New Year.

Hutchings plays in a band and had to work until 1 a.m. His girlfriend works at a local resort and couldn't get off work until 2 a.m. After the two rung in the New Year, they finally headed home around 4 a.m.

That's when Hutchings said a group of at men pulled up on Evernia Street.

"They parked and a guy got out of the back of a car and ran up to her and she was right here in the light where they could see her," he said.

His girlfriend was walking further ahead to get out of the cold, with Hutchings close behind. He said the man appeared to run up on his girlfriend, trying to grab her.

"She started sprinting towards the door when she saw the guy chasing after her and she kind of yelled -- and the guy started running faster," said Hutchings. "And that's when I booked after him and caught up to him right here, pushed him aside and said, 'What are you doing?'"

Hutchings said the man punched him hard in the face twice, knocking him out. He remembers nothing after that.

The men took off but not before witnesses were able to grab a license plate number.

"It was a rental car, so police are not able to narrow it down to anybody just yet," he said.

After the incident, Hutchings woke up in the emergency room. While Hutchings doesn't think downtown is necessarily more dangerous, he says the experience has him rethinking how he navigates the area.

"With construction and stuff going up, there's a dark corner right here. I don't think there's a lot of people up and down this side of the street," he said.

A West Palm Beach police spokesman told me people shouldn’t worry about being attacked in downtown and that this is just an isolated incident.

As for the high murder rate, the spokesman said police can’t discuss deployment strategies on reducing crime. The spokesman pointed out the success of their recent Operation Pocket Change, in which 29 alleged opioid dealers, including several panhandlers, are now in jail.

West Palm PD said they did work 97 reports total on New Year's Even and New Year's Day.

While police are still investigating this crime, Hutchings hopes the men don't strike again.

"I just got in the way, I was assaulted. I'm not worried about me, I'm worried about this happening to anybody else in the future. They're still out there," he said. "I kind of hope that they treat this more as being almost an abduction. If I wasn't there, she could've been picked up."

According to the police report, the men were driving a black Nissan Rogue SUV. The man who punched Hutchings is described as a white male, late 20s or early 30s and stands at least six feet tall.

If you have any information, call Crime Stoppers at 800-458-TIPS (8477).