A La Jolla cardiologist identified his former neighbor in court Aug. 23 as the man who beat him repeatedly in his garage, tied his hands and attempted to steal his car after trying to strangle him.
Dr. Hassan Kafri, 48, testified more than two hours in the preliminary hearing of Robert “Trey” Whitaker, 57, who was ordered to stand trial on six counts including torture, assault with a deadly weapon and two kidnapping charges.
The kidnapping charges allege that Whitaker tried to kidnap Kafri for robbery and for purposes of extortion. He is also charged with burglary, and attempted to dissuade a witness by stealing two phones from Kafri.
The incident took place June 12 in Kafri’s garage around 9:14 a.m. when Whitaker lived next door to him on Mar Avenue in La Jolla. Whitaker remains in jail without bail.
Whitaker, a construction contractor, lived with the doctor’s neighbor, Doris Lew, next door to Kafri for the last six years.
Kafri has offices in San Diego, Chula Vista and La Mesa and worked at three hospitals before the incident. He suffered a broken wrist, a broken nose, dental injuries and other fractures in the incident with his neighbor.
Kafri testified he had a plumbing dispute with Whitaker in July 2018, in which sewage from Whitaker’s residence flowed into Kafri’s bathrooms. Kafri said he had to spent about $15,000 to repair the problem.
Kafri said he talked with Whitaker whom he said acknowledged his sewage had backed up, but refused to pay for any damages. Kafri said he had an attorney send letters to Whitaker, but heard no response.
“It’s not good to sue your neighbor. I dropped it,” said Kafri.
The next communication from Whitaker occurred almost a year later in May when he talked about constructing a fence between their property, said Kafri.
On June 12, Kafri said he got a text message from Whitaker to again discuss the fence. Kafri said he met Whitaker in the driveway and he recalled Whitaker asking him if he liked his Tesla vehicle in his garage.
Suddenly, Whitaker wrapped his arm around Kafri’s neck, and “grabbed me in a chokehold,” said Kafri.
“I couldn’t breathe. I started getting strangulated,” said Kafri, who said he punched Whitaker. “I was trying to force him to let go the chokehold.”
The cardiologist testified Whitaker struck him 30 times in the face with a wooden tool. Kafri said he fell to the ground and Whitaker “continued to hit me” with his fists to his head.
“You have to do what I say. Now we’re going down to your house. I’m sure you have some cool money there,” Kafri quoted Whitaker as telling him.
“I (thought) he was going to kill me there,” said Kafri, who said he was determined not to open the door leading to his house.
“I had a lot of blood around my eyes. He did try to strangle me again one more time while I was on the floor,” said Kafri.
Kafri said he tried to grab his phone and a phone on his watch, but Whitaker took them away before closing the garage door. Kafri said he heard someone outside yelling at Whitaker to stop beating him.
Kafri said Whitaker tied both wrists with zip ties and put him in the back seat of the Tesla. Whitaker was unable to start the car or move it.
Kafri said he offered to say he was injured in a mountain bike accident and not tell anyone of the incident with Whitaker, whom he said then called 911.
Whitaker cut off the bloody zip ties before police arrived, and those were recovered in the garage by investigators.
Kafri said he was hospitalized for 3 1/2 days and needed 18 stitches to his face and head to close wounds. He is still undergoing treatment.
Deputy District Attorney Kristie Nikoletich told San Diego Superior Court Judge Yvonne Campos that Whitaker had money problems and “his world is crumbling around him” when he attacked his neighbor.
Whitaker’s attorney, Vic Monder, told the judge he was surprised to hear allegations about Whitaker demanding money, saying he was fully employed.
Whitaker has pleaded not guilty. He will next appear in court on Sept. 9.