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Petaluma man charged with two felonies in death of boy on birthday party outing


Criminal charges were filed Monday against a Petaluma man who took his daughter and some friends on an ill-fated birthday outing to Lake Mendocino that resulted in the roadside death of a 13-year-old party guest.

Mike Krnaich, 41, was charged with two counts of felony child endangerment in the June 15 accident that caused the death of Trevor Smith.

A father and longtime Little League coach, Krnaich could face a maximum prison term of seven years and four months if convicted, a prosecutor said.

Smith, who would have been in the eighth grade at Kenilworth Junior High this year, died after Krnaich's Chevrolet pickup ran out of gas en route to the lake north of Ukiah on Highway 101.

Krnaich was towing a ski boat when his fuel ran out just shy of the Lake Mendocino exit, and the boys in his truck -- apparently joined by the girls traveling with his wife in a vehicle just behind -- jumped out to push the truck toward the off-ramp.

But it gained momentum as the pickup crested the offramp toward a gas station below, authorities said.

Smith and another boy caught between the truck and the trailer tried to jump to the tailgate. Trevor didn't make it, fell to the ground and was run over by the trailer, the CHP said. He died at the scene.

Though the other boy landed safely, he was the reason for a second child endangerment charge, prosecutors said.

The CHP took some months to investigate the case, and the district attorney's review took even longer, in part because officials were awaiting toxicology results to ensure Krnaich had no alcohol or drugs in his system, Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira said. The lab tests came back clean, he said.

A vehicular manslaughter charge was considered, but prosecutors, focusing on the series of decisions that resulted in Smith's death, concluded that child endangerment better fit the circumstances, Deputy District Attorney Matt Hubley said Monday.

Such cases, when there's no intentional harm, are "really complicated," he said.

"Could it have happened to anybody, or were there a series of bad decisions that led to this as an outcome?" he asked. "And so, that's where we ended up. It was a long path of negligent decisions that led to Trevor's death."

For Krnaich, the entire experience has been crushing, his defense attorney, Chris Andrian said.

Krnaich, who owns and operates the Ramp Rats indoor BMX bike and skateboard park in Santa Rosa and, until last fall, was on the Petaluma American Little League board in which Smith played, "has pretty much devoted his life to kids," Andrian said.

He said the fact that bystanders offered to help push the truck that awful June day indicates others deemed it a viable solution.

"It's just a tragedy," Andrian said. "It's just a nightmare for everybody involved."

Trevor Smith, the youngest of three brothers, was an enthusiastic wrestler, baseball player and all-around sports fan, as well as a theater buff who loved to perform.

He is remembered as an engaging, outgoing, sunny kid whose antics brought laughter to family and friends.

Criminal charges were filed in his case just a day after hundreds of friends and well-wishers gathered to pay tribute to him, dedicating a refurbished Little League baseball field in his memory and renaming it in his honor.

Members of the eastside community where both families live had long wondered how the case would resolve and whether Krnaich would be held criminally liable.

But the boy's parents, Joe and Pam Caralli Smith, have chosen not to voice any frustrations or disappointments they might have, though Caralli Smith said Monday that "the whole thing is a nightmare."

She and her husband filed a wrongful death suit against Krnaich and his wife, Katie, last fall and are seeking damages for what they deem to be negligence. Krnaich, meanwhile, "has had a very difficult time," his lawyer said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.