Felony charges filed in hotshot death
May 5, 2014
Felony charges were filed this week against a Tahoe National Forest firefighter who allegedly ran over and killed one of his colleagues after an "end of season" party.
Yuba County prosecutors filed four felony counts, including vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident, against Andrew D. Gruenberg, 26.
Michael Kelly, 32, was a Forest Service "hotshot" firefighter who, along with Gruenberg and others, attended a party in Camptonville last Nov. 15.
"Alcohol was served and available to all attending the party," according to a declaration of probable cause filed in Yuba County Superior Court.
"I don't believe those are sponsored by the Forest Service at all," Michael Woodbridge, public affairs officer for the Tahoe National Forest, said of the party. "My understanding is it's common for firefighters to celebrate the end of the season. I'm not that knowledgeable about it."
Between midnight and 12:30 a.m., Kelly left the party and began walking about three miles back to his barracks on Marysville Road, the declaration said.
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At about 1 a.m., Gruenberg left the party. He drove a four-door Hyundai Accent with six passengers, all members of the Tahoe Hotshots Crew stationed in Yuba County.
As Gruenberg drove west on Marysville Road, a white pickup in the opposing lane approached, flashing its lights. The driver of that vehicle saw a man — Kelly — lying in the road.
Gruenberg "continued without braking or changing direction and drove past where the person was in the roadway," the declaration said. "The car did not stop."
At 1:10 a.m., one of Gruenberg's passengers called 911 and reported a body in the road.
"The passengers in the Gruenberg car recalled seeing the flashing lights of the pickup truck and running over something," the declaration said. "Upon returning to the barracks, the occupants discussed what they had collided with, and two drove back to the scene, observed medical personnel there and determined they had run over a person."
In an interview with law enforcement, Gruenberg admitted running over Kelly, the declaration said, and acknowledged consuming alcohol at the party.
Gruenberg's blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was estimated at .20 percent. The legal limit is .08 percent.
"Gruenberg related that he did not stop at the scene because he had some alcohol in his system and did not want any issues related to driving under the influence," the declaration said.
Kelly suffered "crushing injuries to his upper chest and throat area consistent with a car tire traveling in a straight line across his chest," the declaration said.
He also suffered trauma to his skull and spine, which were hit by the Accent's tow hook.
Kelly's blood alcohol level at the time of death was .15 percent, the declaration said.
It's not known when Gruenberg will appear for arraignment. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
Harold Kruger is a reporter at the Marysville Appeal-Democrat; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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