A Tahoe National Forest firefighter was killed early Saturday morning after a car full of his colleagues apparently ran him over as he was lying in Marysville Road, just west of Old Toll Road in Yuba County.
Michael P. Kelley, 32, of Camptonville, was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders who found him in the westbound lane with severe blunt trauma to his head and torso, said California Highway Patrol Officer Greg Tassone. At 1:10 a.m. Saturday, a person driving eastbound on Marysville Road spotted a pedestrian, later identified as Kelley, lying down in the opposite lane of the road, Tassone said. After slowing to a stop, the driver saw a 2002 Hyundai Accent approaching and began flashing his high beams wildly in an attempt to get the driver’s attention.
The subcompact sedan was driven by Andrew Gruenberg, 26, of San Diego, and contained six other passengers, all of whom were members of the Tahoe Hotshots Crew stationed in Yuba County, for which Kelley was also employed.
Gruenberg later told investigators he was distracted by the flashing high beams and failed to stop in time, running over Kelley. Gruenberg then continued driving to an address approximately two miles away, later telling investigators he thought he had struck an animal.
Tassone said it appeared the car of firefighters was headed back to barracks, where they live while deployed on duty.
CHP dispatch officers received a phone call immediately after the incident from the driver who witnessed the incident. Soon after, dispatch received a separate phone call from a member of Gruenberg’s party, informing dispatchers an animal had been struck, Tassone said.
After CHP officers arrived to take information from the independent witness, two of the passengers who had been in Gruenberg’s car returned to the scene in a separate vehicle and led officers to Gruenberg.
Gruenberg is suspected of having ingested alcohol immediately prior to the incident, Tassone said. Toxicology results are pending.
It remains unclear whether alcohol was a factor in Kelley ending up prone on the roadway, as the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an autopsy. The results of that autopsy are not expected to be available until late this week at the earliest, Tassone said. Kelley was known to be walking home toward his barracks, according to Tom Quinn, Tahoe National Forest supervisor.
“A number of possible criminal charges could be filed, but no arrest has been made pending the completion of the investigation,” Tassone said.
Kelley served as a squad boss on the Tahoe Hotshots Crew, Quinn said.
Kelley joined the forest service as a permanent employee in 2003 and was with Tahoe National Forest since 2008.
“This is a tragic loss for Mike’s family, for Tahoe National Forest and for the firefighting community,” Quinn said in a Sunday news release.
Kelley also served as a firefighter on engine companies and as a smoke jumper, Quinn said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.