05/12/2004

Nev. Sheriff's Deputy Lost Control of Cruiser Before Crash

Officer Down: Deputy John Wiberg II - [Reno, Nevada]

By Jaclyn O'Malley, The Reno Gazette-Journal

A 38-year-old Washoe County, Nev. sheriff’s deputy answering an armed robbery call was killed in a two-vehicle crash Tuesday morning after he lost control of his cruiser on a wet and snowy stretch of U.S. 395, authorities said.

Deputy John Wiberg II was working his usual graveyard shift when he was dispatched just after 2 a.m. to investigate a robbery at Dottie’s Casino in Lemmon Valley.

The 14-year deputy left the regional dispatching center and headed north on U.S. 395. Treacherous conditions from a late spring snowstorm caused Wiberg to lose control of his car, slide across the highway and crash into a southbound van near the Panther Valley exit, Nevada Highway Patrol troopers said.

The husband and father of four was pronounced dead at 3:43 a.m. at Washoe Medical Center. He is the 100th peace officer to die in the line of duty in Nevada since the 1800s, according to historians.

The driver of the van, Nguyet Thi Vo, 36, of Reno, suffered head injuries and was in stable condition at Washoe Medical Center, troopers said. She was alone in the vehicle. The crash was reported about 2:20 a.m. by a witness who said a deputy was involved. Wiberg’s speed is still under investigation.

Sheriff Dennis Balaam said it took emergency personnel more than 30 minutes to extricate Wiberg, whose cruiser had extensive damage. Troopers said Wiberg, who wore his seat belt, crossed the center median into Vo’s path. The front of her van struck the driver’s side of the cruiser. His emergency lights had not been activated.

“The weather definitely played a major part in this accident,” Balaam said. “I doubt if the minivan driver ever saw him coming.”

Wiberg leaves his wife, Dena, and their four daughters, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12. Funeral arrangements are pending and a memorial fund has been established for the Sparks family.

“John was a fun-loving guy who started (in law enforcement) young,” Balaam said. “He was a cowboy, then married early in his career and had four daughters.

“John was a good guy who served the community.”

Balaam described the fallen officer as a family man who was a team player and liked by his peers.

“This is a difficult time, and we will work through this,” Balaam said.

The last Washoe County deputy killed in the line of duty was Sgt. Frank Minnie Sr., 44, who died in 1997 after crashing his patrol motorcycle on Interstate 80.

Last Friday, Nevada officers killed in the line of duty were remembered during a memorial ceremony in Reno’s Idlewild Park at the James D. Hoff Peace Officer’s Memorial.

The man suspected of Tuesday morning’s armed robbery at Dottie’s Casino in Lemmon Valley was still at large.

Wiberg, a field training officer, was awarded the sheriff’s office’s Bronze Star and a Lifesaving Medal in 2002.

The Star was for an incident in 2000 when Wiberg stopped a man walking along U.S. 395 at 1:40 a.m. and offered him a ride.

According to a citation Balaam wrote, when Wiberg patted down the man for his own safety, he felt a gun in his waistband. The two then struggled and tumbled down a steep dirt embankment adjacent to the roadway.

Wiberg grabbed the weapon from the man, who then ran. After an 18-hour manhunt, the suspect was captured and booked on felony charges. Authorities said the man had been involved in a shooting the week before with the gun Wiberg took.

Wiberg was awarded the Lifesaving Medal for his assistance during a traffic accident in 2001. He was on a traffic stop when he heard screeching tires and saw a car tumbling down an embankment on Rattlesnake Mountain. Wiberg followed a cloud of dust and smoke for a mile until he found the vehicle on its top. The driver, a woman, was lying face down on the rocks.

Balaam wrote in a citation that: “Because of Deputy Wiberg’s quick actions, the accident was found within minutes. … This accident could have gone unnoticed for quite some time if it weren’t for Deputy Wiberg. Due to the nature of the woman’s injuries, she surely would have expired had too much time lapsed.”

In 1998, Wiberg and Deputy Victor Ruvalcaba were investigating a 911 call when Ruvalcaba fatally shot 22-year-old Ben Hull who charged at him swinging a fireplace poker because he believed the deputies were burglars. The district attorney determined Wiberg and his partner acted responsibly and were not criminally negligent.
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