MINDEN - The Douglas County District Attorney's Office will hold a coroner's inquest to determine if criminal charges should be filed in the death of Lance Wardleigh of Gardnerville.
Wardleigh, 43, was a mechanic at Bing Materials and died of blunt force trauma to the rear of the skull after a Christmas party fight at the plant on Dec. 11. He fell and hit his head after being punched by another party-goer, witnesses said.
The other party-goer was a Bing employee. His name has not been released because he has not been arrested or charged in connection in the death.
District Attorney Scott Doyle said his office has been reviewing reports from Douglas County sheriff's investigators and the coroner since the first of February.
A date will be set for the inquest by Monday, but Doyle said it will likely be in April.
The district attorney 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 they have in the case. 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 he died and what caused his death.
"They also determine the cause of death and if it was accidental or at the hand of another. If they say it is not justified and not excusable, then I will make the charges and handle it like any other case," Doyle said.
The inquest is open to the public and Doyle said that is part of the reason he decided to ask for the hearing.
"Some facts indicate it might be a justifiable or excusable death and there is some basis for criminal charges. When there is some question like that, it is important to have someone from the outside or who is not connected. Also, when you open the process, it gives the public a high degree of confidence that everything is being done right."
According to Douglas County sheriff's Sgt. Lance Modispacher, witnesses told investigators that Wardleigh had been intoxicated and "trying to start fights all night."
According to witnesses, Wardleigh had earlier in the evening pushed the coworker with both hands.
"Witnesses told investigators the second party had avoided the situation by leaving the area. Later, the victim approached the party in a threatening manner and so he hit him," Modispacher said.