Trial ahead for driver in Dover Twp. crash that killed young firefighter
A Dover Township man is now facing trial for allegedly causing a crash that killed his passenger and friend, 18-year-old Dover Township volunteer firefighter Chase Hartlaub.
Michael F. Mendez II, 23, of Anita Drive, remains free on $200,000 unsecured bail, charged with homicide by vehicle, hit and run, four counts of reckless endangerment and summary traffic violations including reckless driving, speeding and careless driving causing an unintentional death.
He also remains free on an additional $200,000 unsecured bail in a second case.
In addition to the vehicular homicide case, Mendez also is charged with allegedly trying to gain access to Dover Township's water supply, according to charging documents filed by Northern York County Regional Police.
At his preliminary hearings on those cases Monday, Dec. 10, defense attorney Chris Ferro stipulated to the affidavits of probable cause that were filed by Northern York County Regional Police.
Presiding District Judge David Eshbach then forwarded both cases to York County Court for trial.
Stipulations: The stipulations were for the preliminary hearings only. Ferro and chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker told Eshbach that Ferro's strategy would expedite the process of the prosecution turning over evidence to the defense, known as discovery.
Ferro said his client also agreed to stipulating to the affidavits so no testimony was required Monday. The attorney said that meant Hartlaub's parents and other grieving loved ones didn't have to hear those details.
Eshbach set Mendez's formal court arraignment in the cases for Jan. 18.
He then walked over to Hartlaub's parents, shook their hands and told them, "I'm terribly sorry for your loss."
"This is an incredibly heartbreaking case," Ferro told The York Dispatch. "These two individuals were friends."
He said he and his client are "taking every possible step we can" to avoid causing the Hartlaub family extra pain.
Ferro said he's hopeful Mendez's cases will end in a nontrial resolution. That generally means a negotiated plea agreement.
The background: Northern Regional Police said Mendez crashed his BMW just after 11 p.m. June 15 at the intersection of Emig Mill Road and Mayfield Drive in Dover Township.
Hartlaub, who lived in New Salem, was the sole passenger in the BMW and was in the front passenger seat, police said.
According to charging documents, Mendez had a backyard party at his home, which is just a few blocks from the scene of the crash.
At some point, Mendez and Hartlaub left in Mendez's BMW, police said. A third friend, Austin Choate, told police he was leaving the gathering and was walking to his parked car when he saw the BMW "fly up the street," documents state.
Another driver told police she was eastbound on Emig Mill Road when Mendez's BMW passed her "so quickly she never saw the approaching headlights in her rearview (mirror)," documents state.
She said the BMW passed her a few hundred feet before the vehicles reached the intersection of Mayfield Drive, according to documents.
Another witness, who was driving west on Emig Mill Road, said he saw the eastbound BMW illegally pass another vehicle, then watched as it crashed into another vehicle at the intersection, police said.
BMW clipped SUV: A third witness said the BMW was going about 60 mph when it ran the stop sign at the intersection and clipped the back end of a Ford Explorer, according to police.
The Explorer was being driven by Choate, who was driving home, police said.
Choate also told officers that the BMW ran the stop sign and said he saw "a figure" running from the scene, but he couldn't describe that figure, documents state.
After clipping the Explorer, Mendez's BMW crashed into a split-rail fence, shearing off eight fence posts, according to documents.
"After striking the final post, the vehicle braked heavily, skidding across just under 200 feet of grass and pavement from three residential yards and two driveways," documents state.
During the crash, several of the fence rails impaled the BMW's windshield, with one striking Hartlaub, who died of severe head trauma, according to charging documents.
Not intoxicated: Northern York County Regional Deputy Police Chief David Lash said alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
After initially leaving the scene, Mendez turned himself in about an hour later at a nearby convenience store, police said.
Dover Township fire/rescue crews were the first to respond to the crash scene, where they quickly realized they were caring for one of their own.
In addition to being a Dover Township volunteer firefighter, Hartlaub also volunteered with Community Fire Co. of Seven Valleys and North Codorus Township Fire Co.
He had just graduated from York County School of Technology and was starting a new job at a local collision center, according to Dover Township Deputy Fire Chief Brian Widmayer.
Water tower: In a separate case, Mendez is charged with the felonies of criminal trespass and criminal mischief as well as the misdemeanor of tampering with a public water system.
Northern Regional Police allege he and others gained access to a water tower belonging to the Dover Township Water Authority on Oct. 16, 2017.
They went over a barbed-wire fence, ignored a "no trespassing sign," then moved a camera that had been pointed toward a ladder that accesses the top of the tower, according to police.
The ladder was protected by another locked gate that has a security sensor, and Mendez allegedly affixed duct tape to that sensor so when the gate was opened, the sensor wouldn't alert water-authority employees to the breach, documents allege.
Caught by duct tape: Police collected that piece of duct tape and found that Mendez had left a latent fingerprint on the tape's sticky side, charging documents state.
The water authority put the tower out of service until it could be examined, police said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection checked the tower's structural integrity and tested its water, and it found no evidence that either was tampered with, police said.
Lash said investigators are still trying to identify other suspects in the water-tower trespassing case.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Northern Regional Police tip line at 717-467-TELL or email information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.