Trevor Smith, the Petaluma teen who was killed while helping to push a stranded vehicle on the side of the Highway 101, was remembered Saturday as happy, positive boy who was outgoing and a good athlete.
"He was a respectful, vibrant, really sweet kid who made everyone smile a little bit more," said Colin Caldwell, his Kenilworth Junior High history teacher. "There was a wonderful presence about him."
Trevor, 13, was killed Friday morning on his way to a boating birthday party at Lake Mendocino. His host's truck ran out of gas on the freeway and party guests were helping to push the vehicle down the offramp, the CHP said.
He fell between the pickup and the boat trailer as the vehicle gained momentum heading downhill, authorities said.
The driver of the truck was Michael Krnaich, 41, a Petaluma resident and owner of Ramp Rats, an indoor BMX bike and skateboarding facility off Piner Road in Santa Rosa.
The accident has prompted questions whether it could have been prevented if a tow truck or other assistance had been summoned instead.
"It's inherently dangerous. Anything on the freeway is dangerous," investigating officer Chad Ramsey said Saturday. "He probably wasn't expecting the kid to fall down. Things happen. At what point do we make things criminal or being negligent?"
"It's what we're trying to determine through statements," he said. "We haven't been able to contact everyone yet."
The CHP said Krnaich was driving a 2010 Chevrolet pickup towing a ski boat and carrying several children headed for his daughter's birthday celebration when he ran out of gas on northbound Highway 101 near the West Lake Mendocino Drive off-ramp.
Those in the car, and possibly some passers-by, got out to help push the truck toward the off-ramp, which heads downhill toward a Chevron gas station, authorities said.
Officer Ramsey said Krnaich's wife, Katie, was in another vehicle behind the one that ran out of gas.
In all, he said there were "eight or nine kids" ranging in age from about 11 to 14.
Some children were positioned at the tailgate of the pickup and began to jump into the bed of the truck as it picked up speed.
Trevor, a friend of Krnaich's daughter, may have jumped up to the bumper or onto the tongue of the trailer and lost his footing doing so, authorities said.
Ramsey said someone had yelled to "get out of the way" when the vehicle began to roll downhill.
But Trevor fell onto the pavement and was run over by the trailer..
Officer Ramsey said whether criminal charges are brought may hinge on "if he (Krnaich) instructed the kid to get out and push, or if he (Trevor) got out voluntarily."
Potential charges, he said, could include child endangerment or vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
He said Krnaich was distraught at the scene.
In an email to a reporter late Friday, Krnaich said "My whole life has been dedicated to kids. Mine and others. I have taken more kids on trips than anybody I know. And to have something like this happen is devastating."
Trevor's parents, Joe and Pam Caralli Smith, did not respond to a phone call and voice mail left at their east Petaluma home Saturday evening.