A transient accused of killing a 68-year-old man on New Year's Day by pushing him into the side of an oncoming train at Old Town Transit Center pleaded not guilty Friday to a murder charge.
Ryan Michael Rukstelis, 26, is accused of killing Santee resident Martin Andara, who police said was pushed by Rukstelis and fell into the side of a passing train. He died at the scene.
Friday's court date had been rescheduled from the day prior so that officials could honor Rukstelis' request to be present in person. For their part, Andara's family attended via video conference.
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According to San Diego police Lt. Andra Brown, Andara had just gotten off a southbound trolley and was walking on the platform when Rukstelis pushed him into the train "without provocation."
On Thursday, a vigil was held by family and friends gathered at the Old Town station to remember Andara. His colleagues Josie Linkhorst and Katie Ford worked with Andara at a Ralphs grocery store for years.
"He wouldn't hurt anybody," Ford said. "He's not a threat, so why would someone want to do that to him? I just cant grasp it. It's really hard for me."
Andara's his son, sister and grandkids had the same question: Why was Andara pushed to his death?
"There's nothing that suggests that they knew each other, and that’s what makes it really hard too,” son Adam Andara said.
Police received a call just after 6 a.m. about a man injured on the trolley platform at the Old Town Trolley station in the 4000 block of Taylor Street.
Once officers arrived at the scene, they found Andara on the trolley platform with trauma to his upper body. He pronounced dead at the scene, SDPD Lt. Andra Brown said.
Rukstelis was arrested three days later in the 2200 block of Park Boulevard in Balboa Park, near the Navy hospital, shortly after 3 p.m., according to police. He remains in custody without bail following his Friday morning arraignment. Chief David Nisleit said on Wednesday that detectives used MTS’ surveillance cameras to help track down the suspected killer
Though Rukstelis' attorney, Denis Lainez, did not contest his client's bail status, Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello asked for him to continue to be held without bail in the interest of public safety.
The prosecutor described the alleged killing as a "random, sudden and unprovoked attack on a completely innocent 68-year-old victim who was just on his way to work that morning."
Rukstelis will be back in court March 2 for a status hearing. He could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.