Napa Sheriff's Office: Robert Dahl used silencer in vineyard killing
Troubled Napa Valley vintner Robert Dahl drew out a gun fitted with a silencer and shot investor Emad Tawfilis, abruptly ending a Monday meeting called to resolve their million-dollar dispute, Napa County sheriff’s officials said Tuesday.
Wounded and bleeding, Tawfilis ran for his life through Dahl's vineyard south of Yountville, frantically telling a 911 dispatcher that “Robert Dahl” was trying to kill him, sheriff’s officials said.
Dahl chased him down. He shot Tawfilis again at close range, mere yards from the famed wine region’s well-traveled main highway, in an execution-style slaying partially witnessed by deputies rushing to respond to the 911 call, sheriff's Capt. Doug Pike said.
He then led deputies on a high-speed pursuit that ended 10 miles into the wooded hills near the Napa-Sonoma county line, where he turned the gun on himself.
The shooting capped years of business dealings with mixed success for Dahl, a charismatic salesman whose history of legal battles was largely unknown to many among the Napa Valley business connections he established when he arrived from out of state about four years ago.
And it brought a shocking and horrific end to the life of Tawfilis, 48, of Los Gatos, a Silicon Valley businessman and Cal Poly alum. His brother Magdy Tawfilis, distraught, described his brother as a “great man” in a phone interview Tuesday.
“There is nobody better than my brother. What kind of guy would do this?” Magdy Tawfilis of Los Angeles said.
Dahl and Tawfilis were embroiled in a bitter dispute involving a $1.2 million loan by Tawfilis to Dahl, according to court documents.
The shooting occurred at Dahl Vineyards on Solano Avenue, a frontage road to Highway 29 - the main artery through Napa Valley. Just south of Yountville, the little winery sits across a field from Napa Valley’s iconic Veterans Home of California.
It’s a bucolic setting that contrasts starkly with the gunfire and slaying in a very public area. Tawfilis died on Hoffman Lane, a few dozen feet from the busy highway.
Dahl and Tawfilis had met Monday at a barn Dahl renovated as a tasting room for an 11 a.m. conference call that included their attorneys. They were discussing a possible settlement in a civil case involving the loan.
When the conference call ended, Dahl pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and shot Tawfilis at least once, Pike said.
Deputies found blood and at least one shell casing inside the winery.
The wounded man ran outside and into the nearby vineyard. Dahl got into his black 2014 Toyota SUV and drove after him.
Pike described a chilling scene as the fleeing man called 911, telling a dispatcher that “Robert Dahl” had shot him and was chasing him in a truck, trying to kill him.
As the man ran through the rows of vines, Dahl apparently kept shooting at him, Pike said.
Tawfilis made it to the intersection of Hoffman Lane and Solano Avenue.
“Now wounded, he fell to the ground. Dahl got out of his SUV with a gun and appeared to execute him just as deputies were arriving,” Pike said.
The deputies didn’t hear the shot but said they saw a man standing over a man on the ground, pointing a gun at him, and believed they were witnessing an execution-style slaying, he said.
The suspect then saw the deputies, ran back to his SUV and drove off.
One deputy went to the man on the ground and found he had been shot in the head. Another deputy and a sheriff’s lieutenant followed Dahl up Highway 29. The pursuit reached speeds of 90 mph at times on the busy two-lane highway, Pike said.
Multiple Napa police officers and a CHP helicopter joined the chase.
Dahl turned off the highway, and the chase continued up the curving, steep and narrow Oakville Grade. Dahl turned onto Wall Road where he crashed into a gate on private property. Pursuers briefly lost sight of the vehicle and once they found it they weren’t sure if he remained inside. Knowing the man was armed and could be in the hillside’s dense woods, deputies called for the Napa County sheriff’s and Napa city SWAT teams before approaching the vehicle.
Dahl was found in the driver’s seat, dead from a gunshot wound apparently to his head. Nearby was a handgun with a silencer attached, Pike said.
Pike said the use of a silencer takes the killing to a different level and could mean Dahl intended to kill Tawfilis when he went to the meeting, rather than made a last-second decision.
“It shows intent, going to that extreme,” Pike said. “To me, it indicates somebody put some planning into it.”
Sheriff’s detectives Tuesday were wrapping up their investigation, Pike said. They’d searched Dahl’s SUV and retraced the vehicle’s tracks from the site of the slaying back to the winery’s tasting room.