Calling the Genoa town manager’s conduct last fall at the scene of a fire, “irrational and reprehensible,” sitting East Fork Justice of the Peace Steve McMorris found Matt Bruback guilty of interfering with firefighters.
McMorris sentenced Bruback to 60 days in jail, suspended for one year, and ordered him to pay a fine of $1,140 within 60 days.
McMorris, who has been on the bench for 40 years, opened the trial saying he’d never seen a similar case.
Prosecutor Erik Levin called eight witnesses in the case stemming from an Oct. 22, 2021, power pole fire.
After listening to the testimony from six firefighters and two NV Energy employees at the time, McMorris said he was tempted to give Bruback a little jail time.
“East Fork and NV Energy were up to their butts in alligators, and they didn’t need anyone getting in the way,” the judge said. “The defendant had no authority whatsoever to interfere with fire or power company personnel.”
The incident occurred around 3 p.m. when the top of a pole located across from the Genoa Cemetery caught fire in a windstorm.
NV Energy employee Scott Lawlor testified that when he arrived, he contacted headquarters in Reno to turn off the power.
Bruback testified he was in town, where two weddings were underway, when the power went out around 3 p.m.
Bruback said he started by heading north along Jacks Valley Road and then parked his Jeep.
He testified he was walking past a fire engine on Jacks Valley Road when he tried to wave down an NV Energy truck.
He said he and the driver made eye contact and that the driver didn’t stop. Bruback said he was hit by the truck.
Driver Bradley Shell testified he did stop and that Bruback stepped onto his bumper and climbed onto the hood of his truck.
Shell said he didn’t know who Bruback was and that he cursed at him to get off the truck, which wound up costing Shell his job.
Shell testified he was on his way to isolate the line after it had been de-energized, so power could be restored to the rest of the town.
Bruback acknowledged he never formally reported that he was hit by the truck and none of the other witnesses said they saw that interaction.
There was no testimony that Bruback was injured in that initial confrontation. When he tried to claim on the stand that he was assaulted, the judge said “Stop that!”
Lawlor testified that Bruback walked into the scene and got within chest bumping distance of him. The NV Energy employee said he could feel spittle on his face as the manager demanded to know Shell’s information.
East Fork Fire Protection District Capt. Brian Nelson testified that he told Bruback there was a pole fire, and then advised him to leave the scene after seeing Bruback arguing with Lawlor.
Bruback admitted hopping onto another engine to hand firefighters his card as they were making their way into the scene.
Hired by the town in May 2021 after former Town Manager JT Chevallier resigned, Bruback arrived in Carson Valley in 2019 to be Main Street Gardnerville manager. That experience was cited by town board members when they hired him.
In January, after learning of the charges, Bruback tried to get the Genoa Town Board to pay his legal fees, an action the town deferred pending the outcome of the trial.
The incident occurred a month after a potential public safety power outage was announced by NV Energy out of concern that lines might set a fire in a windstorm. Genoa was never shut off, but some homes further north were.
While there’s a passage in the Douglas County human resources book that allows town managers to respond to emergencies, the manual doesn’t override state law, Levin said.
Bruback said the county didn’t provide him with training about how to handle emergencies.
Attorney Justin Clouser asked several of the witnesses whether there was a protocol to inform people that there is a fire or power outage.
They all pointed out that in an emergency, the immediate concern is to protect life and property. NVEnergy.com includes an outage tab that can be accessed by a phone allowing people to report and view reports of power outages.
The incident occurred the day after the Caldor Fire was declared contained and four days before the Tamarack Fire’s official containment and control.