After almost nine months of investigation, the Mendocino County District Attorney filed two felony counts of child endangerment against a Petaluma man in connection with the June 15 death of 13-year-old Kenilworth Junior High School student Trevor Smith.
The charges against Ramp Rats skate park owner Mike Krnaich came just one day after hundreds of community members gathered to dedicate a newly renovated little league baseball field at Lucchesi Park to Trevor, in a public effort to heal from the wounds left by the accident.
Trevor's parents, Joe and Pam Caralli Smith, have declined to comment about the charges, though they did file a wrongful death lawsuit in the fall against Krnaich and his wife, Katie, seeking damages.
The tragic incident occurred during a summer trip to Lake Mendocino for Krnaich's daughter's birthday. His daughter was a friend of Trevor's. Krnaich was towing a 3,500-pound ski boat on Highway 101 near Ukiah, when his 2010 Chevrolet pickup truck ran out of gas near the Lake Mendocino exit. Krnaich's young passengers — including Trevor — got out and pushed the truck towards the off-ramp.
But as the truck reached the descending off-ramp, it picked up speed and began to roll downhill. Trevor and another boy caught between the pickup and the trailer tried to jump over the tailgate.While the other boy made it, Trevor did not. He fell to the pavement and was run over by the trailer carrying the ski boat, according to CHP. He died at the scene.
According to Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Matt Hubley, charging Krnaich with two counts of felony child endangerment was not an easy decision, especially given the fact that Krnaich seemed to have had the best intentions for the children on the trip.
"But he was responsible for the children's safety and to not put them in dangerous situations," said Hubley. "If you run out of gas on the side of the freeway, the worst option available is to allow the children to push your vehicle between the trailer. Ultimately, that was one of the most important factors in considering what charges to file."
Hubley added that the District Attorney determined that Krnaich's actions did not fit the more severe charge of vehicular manslaughter. This is because Trevor Smith's death came about from negligent decision-making on Krnaich's part after the vehicle ran out of gas, rather than from Krnaich's driving. Hubley said that Krnaich's actions fall under the heading of child endangerment instead.
Hubley wouldn't say whether CHP's investigation had determined if Krnaich had asked the children to push his vehicle, or if they had volunteered. Either way, Hubley said, it was an unsafe situation.
"There is a very narrow shoulder where this incident occurred, which is why Mike (Krnaich) first decided to have the kids push the vehicle — to get it out of the way," said Hubley. "Once he realized they were having some success, they continued pushing the vehicle for several hundred yards."