Vail man facing charges after fight in park pleads not guilty
Dispute over dogs between two Buffehr Creek Park acquaintances ended in pocketknife stabbing, multiple felony charges
EAGLE — It was not a normal day in the park. A Vail man accused of assaulting and ultimately stabbing a man in a dispute over their dogs in Buffehr Creek Park last August pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he faces, putting his case on track for a possible trial in Eagle County District Court.
Vail Police arrested Brian A. Wibergh, 51, after a fight between him and another man on Aug. 22. Prosecutors have since charged Wibergh with first- and second-degree assault with a deadly weapon causing bodily injury and menacing, all felonies; as well as third-degree assault, cruelty to an animal, and harassment, all misdemeanors.
Wibergh and the man he allegedly stabbed gave differing accounts of what happened, according to a police affidavit. The man, who received a non-life threatening stab wound to his torso, told police that he and Wibergh have casually known each other for years, and have frequently seen each other at the park with their dogs.
The man told police he and Wibergh started to argue over the behavior of his own off-leash dog, which approached a young girl in the park who began interacting with the 1-year-old Malinois. The man said he began walking over to put his dog on a leash, when it started jumping on and around Wibergh, who then got angry, picked the dog up, and slammed it down, saying he was “tired of this s—.”
The man told police he started yelling at Wibergh and walked up to him, but did not fight back when Wibergh shoved and started punching him. The man said he began walking away when Wibergh stopped, but they continued to exchange words. When Wibergh’s dog then followed him, he asked Wibergh “how would you like it if someone messed with your dog,” telling police he took a step toward Wibergh’s dog, but did not do anything.
Wibergh allegedly punched the man again, and the man told police he then grabbed Wibergh in a “choke hold” and took him to the ground to stop him from continuing to assault him. The man said he was not trying to hurt Wibergh, just restrain him, and that while he was holding Wibergh face down on the ground, Wibergh stabbed him, according to the affidavit.
The man stabbed — not arrested or charged as a result of the incident — also told police that he had encountered Wibergh “looking angry” near the park two weeks earlier. When he asked Wibergh what was wrong that day, Wibergh said he had an argument with someone at the park, pulling out a pocketknife and waving it around, saying, “… I should have just killed him,” the man told police.
Police said Wibergh was asked to give his side of the story after he was arrested and read his rights. Wibergh told police he told the man to get control of his dog, and then went to grab the man’s dog by the collar to walk it away from the girl, thinking she was in distress. He said he was holding the dog by the collar as it jumped, when the man yelled at him for abusing the dog. Wibergh said the man came up to him, pushed him once or twice, yelled in his face, and followed him as he tried to walk away, asking “how would you like it if someone messed with your dog,” and saying he was going to “kick his dog’s a–” according to the police affidavit.
Wibergh told police he stepped between the man and his own dog and told the man to stay away from the dog, when the man grabbed him in a choke hold and took him to the ground. Wibergh said he was struggling to breathe and scared, so he wiggled an arm free and pulled out a pocketknife, intending to slice at the man’s arm around his neck to make him let go, but that when he couldn’t get into the right position, he tried stabbing one time. When the man did not respond, he said he then called out to another person in the park to come get the knife out from underneath him, intending to “ride it out.”
A witness at the park who called 911 reportedly captured two videos of the incident, beginning after the man was stabbed. According to police, the videos appear to show Wibergh on the ground, with the man on his back, his arms around Wibergh trying to restrain him but not trying to choke or assault Wibergh, and then Wibergh holding the man’s arm, preventing him from getting off.
The only injuries police observed on Wibergh were to a finger, and he did not claim any other injuries, according to the affidavit. Detectives also found a collar for the other man’s dog near the fight site. It was apart, suggesting to police it was pulled with enough force to undo the buckle.
Wibergh’s attorney told the judge Wednesday that he has made an offer to resolve the pending criminal case with prosecutors. Johnny Lombardi, a deputy district attorney, replied the current offer on the table has been for Wibergh to plead guilty to second-degree assault causing bodily injury and animal cruelty. “The only counter offer was an offer that did not involve any incarceration, and the people would not accept that for a case of this nature,” Lombardi told the judge.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.