Hotshot firefighter in fatal hit and run begins jail time in Yuba County
Special to The Union
A former hotshot firefighter was taken into custody to serve a 90-day jail sentence for driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene after his vehicle drove over the body of his teammate.
Andrew Gruenberg was designated a sober driver during a post-season party in Camptonville for U.S. Forest Service firefighters in November 2013. He was driving a carload of people back to the barracks when the vehicle drove over a “bump” later determined to be the head and body of their friend, Michael Kelly II.
Kelly, 32, was dead. Gruenberg did not stop the vehicle, and officers later determined he was intoxicated.
Whether Kelly was dead before he was struck by the car driven by Gruenberg was never determined. And no one knows why Kelly was lying in the road.
Gruenberg was originally charged with vehicular manslaughter and convicted of felony hit and run and misdemeanor DUI.
Gruenberg, now 29, was sentenced Monday in Yuba County Superior Court by Judge Benjamin Wirtschafter after two years of court hearings that left the victim’s family with no faith in the criminal justice system.
Kelly’s parents both submitted statements to the court expressing their disbelief that a car containing five firefighters would not stop and attempt to render aid.
“He did not stop to help, he did not stop to check. He is a firefighter,” victim advocate Terri Ayers said, reading a letter by Debbie Kelly.
“He left our son lying on the ground like a dog.”
She said she was in shock that he had not spent any time in jail.
“How does that happen? To commit a crime and not serve jail time is a crime in itself,” she said.
Kelly’s father, also Michael Kelly, said his family has been turned upside down and had to sell their family home where their son grew up because living there was too hard.
“I’ve had a hard time fighting an eye-for-an-eye mentality because so much has been taken from us,” Kelly said.
Gruenberg did not speak. But his attorney, Thomas Leupp, said Gruenberg has lost his reputation, his savings and his career that he loved as a Forest Service firefighter.
In handing down the sentence, Wirtschafter called the case horrific, tragic and mysterious.
“This many years later, there is still ambiguity on what happened Nov. 16,” he said.
He said there is nothing he or Gruenberg could do to fix the loss that Kelly’s family has experienced.
Gruenberg was ordered probation for three years. If he is found in violation, he could serve up to four years in prison.
He was also ordered to pay more than $21,000 in restitution.
Vaughan is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.
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