Yuba County authorities investigate death of Grass Valley man during encounter | TheUnion.com

Yuba County authorities investigate death of Grass Valley man during encounter

The circumstances surrounding the Monday death of a Grass Valley man during an incident involving Yuba County law enforcement remain under investigation.

An autopsy was conducted Thursday for William Hennefer, 37, but an official cause of death remains undetermined pending toxicology results, said Leslie Carbah, spokeswoman for the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office had responded to an area off Highway 20 near Browns Valley shortly after 1 p.m. Monday for reports of a suspicious man in a vehicle, Carbah said.

The man, later identified as Hennefer, refused to exit his vehicle and was acting erratically when law enforcement made contact with him, Carbah said Thursday.

“He was behaving in a way that suggested he was under the influence of drugs,” she said. “At one point he started to get out of the vehicle, then turned around and got back inside.”

Hennefer began to pull the vehicle away before putting it into reverse multiple times, Carbah said, at one point pulling forward toward deputies before becoming stuck in a ditch.

“He got stuck in the mud,” she said.

A negotiator was on scene, trying to talk to Hennefer, Carbah said.

Eventually, deputies made a tactical approach to the vehicle to extract Hennefer and a deputy broke out the window of the man’s vehicle to look inside. Hennefer was found unresponsive in the driver’s seat, and paramedics unsuccessfully attempted life saving measures, she said.

There was no apparent external trauma to Hennefer’s body, Carbah said, and there was no force used by deputies during the incident aside from breaking the vehicle’s window with a baton.


Hennefer had two open criminal cases in Nevada County — a misdemeanor arrest for driving under the influence of a controlled substance in June, and a felony assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from an October arrest.

In the October case, Hennefer also had been charged with resisting arrest, displaying a deadly weapon and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

He had pleaded not guilty and posted a $100,000 bond, court records state.

Nevada County Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said Thursday he had argued for the high bail amount, saying it was “unfortunate” that Hennefer was able to bond out.

According to Walsh, the charges stemmed from an incident in which Hennefer was blocking a shared easement with his vehicle, and brandished a knife at a woman driving her vehicle with her child inside.

“He made threatening statements,” Walsh said, adding Hennefer then allegedly backed up toward the woman’s vehicle and ran her off the road.

“We wouldn’t normally charge an (assault with a deadly weapon) like that,” he said. “We felt he intentionally assaulted her with the vehicle, so I did file it as a felony.”

Walsh said that Hennefer appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance and was uncooperative when deputies responded.

“He had the knife and was waving it around,” he said, adding that Hennefer told the deputies to shoot him, and they eventually Tased him.

Walsh said at the time he filed the charges, he was unaware of an earlier, similar case.

Hennefer had served three years and eight months years in state prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to assault with a deadly weapon to cause great bodily injury and evading an officer. In that incident, Hennefer led California Highway Patrol officers on a chase along the Golden Center Freeway and into Grass Valley, ramming multiple CHP patrol cars as officers tried to stop him. At one point, Hennefer allegedly tried to run over a CHP officer and was eventually subdued by a Taser, reports stated.

The Marysville Appeal-Democrat contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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