MINDEN - Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle said a coroner's inquest in the death of Lance Wardleigh has been set for April 21 at 9 a.m.
A three-person jury will decide whether criminal charges should be filed in the death of Wardleigh. He died after striking his head during a fight at the Bing Materials Christmas party Dec. 11 in the Ranchos. Doyle said the other person involved in the fight, a fellow employee of Wardleigh's, cannot be identified until the case is filed with the court in a couple of weeks. Gerry Bing said he is still employed with the company.
The hearing is open to the public, and Doyle said that is part of the reason he decided to ask for the hearing. In a case with conflicting witness reports and other information, the public has more confidence in a public decision, rather than the DA making a decision behind closed doors.
Doyle said he had explained his decision to hold the inquest to Wardleigh's daughter, who lives in South Dakota, and she seemed happy with the decision.
"I talked with the deceased's biological daughter, and once I explained the process and she understood it, she was very satisfied and felt it was a reasonable thing to do," he said.
However, Wardleigh's sister, Taunee Perry of Gardnerville, said she and many of her family members feel the investigation has not revealed the truth, in part because of pressure Gerry Bing has placed on his employees who witnessed the fight.
"My response, and I think a lot of the other family feels like this, is there has been a coverup. At Lance's memorial, of all the people he knew who worked there, only two people came, and that was Bing and Chet Wass. That tells a lot that no one showed up. There's a fear there and a control of employees," Perry said. "People (who witnessed the fight) backed out of their statements two days later as they called from Bing. Lance wasn't perfect, but everything there contributed to what happened."
Both Gerry Bing and Doyle denied any wrong-doing.
"Each of the witnesses is going to be placed under oath and are subject to penalties of perjury. It is an open coroner's inquest. A cover-up is inconsistent with putting the entire investigation in front of the public in a inquest," Doyle said.
Bing said the investigators interviewed the witnesses the night of the death and many times after and if there were any inconsistencies, they would know about it.
"I'm sure if they changed their story, the sheriff would have had some problem with that. There was nothing to tell them (to tell the investigators). What the witnesses had to tell them is what the truth was. Anyone who wanted to go to the memorial could," he said.
Doyle said the procedure for a coroner's inquest is set by state law. The inquest is held in the justice court in the jurisdiction where the person died, in this case, in East Fork Justice Court with Justice Jim EnEarl presiding.
The justice picks three people to sit on a jury and the district attorney's office presents all the evidence. Witnesses tell what they saw and expert witnesses are called in, Doyle said.
The jury's job is to identify facts in the case such as who died, where and when the person died and what caused the person's death. They also determine the cause of death and if it was accidental or at the hand of another. If the jurors say it is not justified and not excusable, then the DA's office will make the charges and handle it like any other case.
According to Douglas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Lance Modispacher, witnesses told investigators that Wardleigh, 43, of Gardnerville, had been intoxicated and "trying to start fights all night."
According to witnesses, Wardleigh had earlier in the evening pushed the man with both hands, and when Wardleigh attempted to provoke him a second time, the man punched him.