ELKO – Statements read by family members and the defendant moved a courtroom to tears Thursday before the sentencing of a man convicted in the hit-and-run death of the president of the Elko Federal Credit Union last year.
Daniel Vasu, 28, was sentenced to 8 to 20 years and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine on one count of failure to stop at the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death, a category B felony, in Elko District Court.
Vasu pleaded guilty to the charge in May, almost a year after he was suspected of hitting Elko Federal Credit Union President Doug Schwartz with his Jeep on the evening of June 22, 2016, on Commercial Street in front of Machi’s Grill and Saloon.
A photo of Vasu’s vehicle was posted on social media sites and news outlets in an effort to locate the driver. Vasu was arrested the next morning.
Schwartz died of his injuries at Northern Nevada Regional Hospital several hours later.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Nancy Porter told the court she received letters from people on Vasu’s behalf saying that he “made a mistake.”
“But leaving the scene was more than a mistake, it was bad judgment,” Porter continued.
District Attorney Chad Thompson called lead investigator Dennis Price to “exemplify … the motive in leaving the scene after hitting Mr. Schwartz.”
Price explained investigators learned through surveillance video, phone records, interviews and collaboration from Vasu, that Vasu consumed alcohol at the Blind Onion, the Tiki Hut, Goldie’s Bar, the Stray Dog Pub & Café, and returned to the Tiki Hut.
“He knew he was drunk, it says so on his own text messages,” Thompson said, “and still got behind the wheel.”
In asking for the maximum of 8 to 20 years, “we’re not asking for the death sentence or even his entire life,” Thompson said. “We’re asking a statement be sent to the community,” Thompson continued.
“We can’t prosecute alcohol, but we have to send a message … that you don’t get behind the wheel after doing this,” Thompson said.
Defense attorney Sherburne Macfarlan said Vasu’s sentence “has to consider a number of factors. The impact of this offense on Mr. Schwartz’s family and friends and will continue to have on [them]. But you also have to consider the impact it will have on the defendant’s family and friends.”
Macfarlan asked for a “fair sentence” of 24 to 72 months, explaining that Vasu did not have any prior criminal history and “in all likelihood, he is probably going to do more than the 24 months.”
Macfarlan referred to letters from Vasu’s mother, family and friends describing Vasu’s character.
“Those people are obviously not condoning what Mr. Vasu did and the harm that he has caused, but they are pointing out that Mr. Vasu does in fact have some very fine characteristics,” Macfarlan said.
“I am in no way trying to diminish the impact of Mr. Vasu’s conduct on the Schwart’s family … and friends,” Macfarlan continued. “Nothing can be done to repair the damage.”
Offered by Porter to speak, Vasu read a letter to the court and members of Schwartz’s family.
“I express my sincere remorse for my irresponsibility and dangerous actions. There is no excuse for it. I wish I could take it all back, all of it,” Vasu said.
“But I want to own up and deal with my consequences. I’m sorry I didn’t that day,” Vasu said. “I want to show people they need to know what’s right. They need to do what’s right in any case, in any circumstance.”
Victim impact statements read by Schwartz’s wife Diane and son DJ offered forgiveness to the defendant and described Schwartz’s contributions to his family and the community.
Diane Schwartz said while her husband was in the hospital, he wouldn’t allow others to assume a drunk driver hit him.
“He forgave you as he lay in the hospital,” she said tearfully. “Doug still continued to say ‘that we shouldn’t be accusing because we simply didn’t know.’”
“I thought it was important for you to know that he gave you the benefit of the doubt,” Diane Schwartz said. “I also want you to know I forgive you.”
ELKO – Community colleges are one of the keys in developing Nevada’s workforce, according higher education leaders.
The importance of community colleges in Nevada was emphasized by newly appointed Chancellor Thom Reilly, Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page and Vice Chancellor of Community Colleges Nate Mackinnon, who were in Elko this week for a Board of Regents meeting held at Great Basin College.
Appointed to their positions this summer, Reilly, Mackinnon and Page discussed plans to bolster community colleges in Nevada and gain insight from employers to develop an educated workforce.
To meet these goals, one of the benefits is having community colleges and universities under a single system, Reilly said.
This spring, Assembly Bill 331 proposed to remove the community colleges from NSHE and form the Nevada System of Community Colleges. Although the legislation did not make it through the lower chamber, it highlighted the benefits of a centralized system among education officials.
The strength in having one system is promoting seamless transfers from two-year colleges to four-year colleges.
“Students [who transfer] are more likely to complete college and do it quicker … and better,” Reilly said. “That is a pipeline we should be exploiting.”
Mackinnon recently came from a decentralized system in Massachusetts where “getting things done was very difficult,” he said, but Nevada’s system can help keep a focus on community colleges.
To meet that goal, the board of regents added a community college section on their meeting agendas, created a community college committee with advisory boards to gain input, and hired Mackinnon as vice chancellor of community colleges.
“We’re trying to give additional resources over to the community college side,” Page said. “It will help us with the Legislature if we give it that focus.”
Part of that focus includes increased funding, said Page, who added that a recent funding formula paid for “bodies” but did not account for students completing certificates and degrees.
Funding formulas are developed every 10 years, which is a “huge help overall,” Page said, but improvements would be focused on in upcoming legislative committees and the next legislative session.
“The formula is continuing to evolve — there’s progress,” said Reilly. “It’s clearly a better formula than … in the past.”
Encouraging high school students to enter college is another goal the officials are supporting through the Nevada Promise scholarship, which helps cover the cost of earning a certificate or associate degree.
Referred to as a “last dollar” scholarship, NV Promise is intended to pay for fees and tuition beyond what is covered by the Guinn Millennium Scholarship, Silver Opportunity Grant and federal grants.
Students have up to three years of college costs covered to complete their associate degrees, and the scholarship amount will vary upon amounts left unmet by each student.
Modeled after the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, “Nevada is sticking its baby toe into experimenting with that and seeing how it takes off,” Mackinnon said. “Our hope is it really does.”
Funded by the Legislature for one year, $3.5 million is available to high school seniors who apply by Oct. 31 and are planning to take a minimum of 12 credits.
Page explained that focusing on success instead of students is part of their strategic goals that measure graduation rates and overall satisfaction, tying it back to meeting the needs to the workforce.
The need for retaining students in Nevada is important, said Mackinnon, explaining that employees are being lured outside Nevada.
“We need to figure out how to change the narrative to say, ‘The answer is right here.’”
PORTOLA—An Elkoan who was killed in action during the Korean War will be honored Saturday with the rededication of a military blood donor railroad car in Portola, California.
The ceremony at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum on Saturday celebrates the 100th anniversary of the construction of the “Railroad Car that Saves Lives” and the man who the car is named for, Charles O. Sweetwood.
A proclamation from the City of Elko will be read and the ceremony is to be attended by members of Sweetwood’s family, Portola city officials, representatives from the Red Cross, and California state and federal lawmakers, according to organizer Patty Clawson.
Also scheduled to attend is the last surviving nurse that served on the car, 96 year-old Julia Rigutto Pagan.
Sweetwood lived in Elko and worked for the Western Pacific Railroad. One of his duties was to supervise a private car, the WP 106, originally built in 1917.
Sweetwood enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1947 and served in the Korean War as a medic rising to the rank of sergeant.
On Sept. 8, 1950, he was killed in action, eight days after his 21st birthday.
Sweetwood was noted as the first Nevadan to die in the Korean War and is buried in Elko, said Clawson, adding he also received the Purple Heart.
The Western Pacific turned the WP 106 into a military blood procurement car and named it in honor of Sweetwood.
The car was staffed with four Red Cross nurses and a Western Pacific porter. The first blood donors were Sweetwood’s mother and brother.
The “Charles O. Sweetwood” is linked to northern Nevada history, Clawson said, as the car went through Reno and Elko during the three years it was in operation.
Formally decommissioned in 1953, the “Charles O. Sweetwood” collected more than 25,000 pints of blood going through Nevada, California, Colorado and Utah, traveling 28,488 miles. It was preserved in the Western Pacific’s museum.
For information call 530-832-4131 or visit their website at WPLives.org.
Plumas County News contributed to this article.
ELKO – A kidnapping suspect was arrested Thursday at an Idaho Street motel after driving here from Colorado.
John Baerthlein, 75, of Stateline was arrested in Elko after allegedly taking a senior citizen woman from her assisted living facility in Boulder.
Law enforcement agencies informed Nevada Highway Patrol that Baerthlein was headed west on Interstate 80 toward Nevada, and was possibly at the Best Western.
NHP and police officers arrived at the motel later that afternoon where he was found in one of the hotel rooms with the victim.
Baerthlein was arrested without incident and the victim was not injured, an NHP representative said.
According to a report in the Denver Post, the woman was Baerthlein’s former girlfriend. She has been taken into protective care.
Baerthlein was arrested on an extraditable warrant. His bail was not listed.
Online court records indicate Baerthlein has a warrant for second-degree kidnapping pending against him.