Olympic Valley man charged with attempted murder
A late night fight proved nearly fatal Saturday, Jan. 11 when one man allegedly struck another with his car in the Squaw Valley Ski Resort parking lot, then dragged him a quarter of a mile underneath his vehicle, the Placer County Sheriffs Office reported.
The victim remains hospitalized at the Washoe Medical Center in Reno and the suspect is charged with attempted murder, authorities said.
After leaving a bar at the base of Squaw Valley between 1 and 2 a.m., Mathew David Haff of Olympic Valley and Thomas Hans Berenbak Jr. of Tahoe City reportedly got into a fight and exchanged blows. Investigators said Berenbak had approached Haff, who was driving out of the parking lot in his car, to tell him he was going too fast.
Haff sped away after an exchange of words, striking Berenbak with his vehicle and dragging him through the parking lot onto Squaw Valley Road. Berenbak, 31, became untangled from the car near the post office.
Minutes after the incident, off-duty Squaw Valley ski patroller Matt Stanton was driving home when he saw something in the road.
“We thought it was a garbage bag or a pile of clothes or something, then right as we got to him he popped his head up and we saw it was a person,” said Stanton. “I called 911 and monitored his vital signs.”
Meanwhile, MC Constantinescu was leaving PlumpJack’s when he saw his friend Dean Conway running frantically after a car in the parking lot. Conway had witnessed the scuffle and directed his friend to follow the car, shouting, “there’s a guy pinned under that car.”
“By the time…[Conway] got in, the car was already halfway across the parking lot,” said Constantinescu, who was having trouble controlling his own car due to slippery conditions. “Half way across the parking lot we could see in the tracks that there was definitely someone under the car.”
When they pulled up to the scene, Stanton had just discovered Berenbak and together they covered the snowy, injured man with blankets and towels they found in Constantinescu’s car. While they waited for the fire department and sheriff’s deputies, Stanton, a wilderness first responder and Conway, an EMT, tried to staunch the bleeding and keep Berenbak warm despite the ice and snow packed in his clothes.
“We just tried to stabilize him the best we could before the fire department came,” said Stanton. “He started closing his eyes, so we tried to keep him awake…” The firemen arrived about 10 minutes later.
If he had known him, Constantinescu said he would not have recognized the man lying in the middle of the road. “He had holes all over him, there was one under his chin that was an inch deep,” he said.
Squaw Valley Fire Department Capt. Mike Gallagher commended the efforts of those first on the scene. “They did a great job of protecting him – they’d positioned their cars so they wouldn’t be struck and they did the best they could to keep him warm,” he said.
Noting head and leg injuries, as well as facial trauma, chest wounds and possible abdominal injuries, Gallagher arranged for an air ambulance to fly Berenbak to Washoe Medical Center from Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee.
He is in stable condition and will remain hospitalized through the week, the sheriff’s office said Tuesday.
Haff, 28, is being held without bail and was charged with one count of attempted murder, one count of assault with a deadly weapon with means of force likely to cause great bodily harm and two counts of hit and run causing injury or death.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lori Ziegler said investigators got the impression he was aware he was dragging Berenbak underneath his car while he was driving. Haff pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 28.