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Driver gets probation, community service in Trevor Smith's death

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:53 p.m.

A Petaluma man has been sentenced to probation and community service in the death of a 13-year-old boy during a birthday trip to Lake Mendocino in 2012.

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Michael Lee Krnaich.

Michael Lee Krnaich, 42, earlier had pleaded guilty to one count of felony child endangerment. He initially was charged with two counts.

Trevor Smith was run over and killed while pushing Krnaich's Chevrolet pickup down an offramp after it ran out of gasoline.

Krnaich had eight children, ages 9 to 13, push his truck and boat trailer after it stalled on Highway 101 just south of the Lake Mendocino Drive turnoff, according to testimony at his preliminary hearing. The group was headed to a birthday party for Krnaich's daughter.

Smith was killed when he slipped, fell and was crushed by the trailer as the rig picked up speed.

Wednesday's sentencing hearing was difficult for all involved, said Krnaich's attorney, Chris Andrian.

“It was a very emotional day for the family as it was for my client,” he said.

Smith's parents, Joe and Pam Caralli Smith, on Thursday declined to comment. The prosecutor handling the case could not be reached.

Following a preliminary hearing last year, Mendocino County Judge Richard Henderson said the tragedy was preventable and found there was sufficient evidence presented to order Krnaich, a contractor who owns a BMX bike and skateboard park in Santa Rosa, to stand trial.

testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated there were several opportunities to avoid the disaster, beginning shortly after the group left Petaluma in two vehicles. Boys were in the truck with Krnaich and girls were in a car with his wife, Katie.

Krnaich knew he was low on fuel while just outside of Santa Rosa but did not stop to get gasoline, according to testimony. He passed at least three gas station exits in Ukiah after the fuel warning light came on.

Krnaich also was texting, taking pictures and posting to Facebook while driving that day, witnesses said.

When the truck ran out of gas and came to a stop on an overpass, Krnaich instructed the boys to get out and push. Katie Krnaich, pulled up behind the truck and asked the girls to get out and help push, according to testimony.

Michael Krnaich also got out of the truck, giving the wheel to his 12-year-old daughter, according to court testimony.

While Katie Krnaich went to a nearby gas station to get fuel, the children continued to push the truck, even after they reached a portion of highway with an 8-foot-wide shoulder that could safely accommodate the truck and trailer. Witnesses said Krnaich also refused offers of fuel from passers-by.

Krnaich urged the children to continue pushing the truck to the top of an incline, where it then began to move on its own. Most of the children moved to the side of the road at that time, but one boy jumped in the back of the pickup. Smith, who had been nearest the trailer hitch while pushing, tried to join him but slipped.

The boat trailer ran over Smith's head and torso, according to the testimony.

Krnaich “didn't make good decisions that day,” Andrian said. But he also didn't intend for anyone to get hurt, he said.

“It was just one of those horrible, horrible tragedies,” Andrian said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.)

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