Vail man convicted in Buffehr Creek Park stabbing sentenced to four years probation
Family, friends and other community members filled the courtroom in support of Brian Wibergh Wednesday
It is not every day that sentencing hearings at the Eagle County Justice Center are met with applause from a gallery of supporters, but that was the case for Brian Wibergh’s hearing Wednesday morning.
A November jury verdict found the Vail man to be guilty of second-degree assault and felony menacing but not guilty of three other misdemeanor charges after a fight at a Vail park ended with Wibergh stabbing another man last year.
Wibergh was sentenced to 90 days of jail time and four years of supervised probation for the crime. He will also be required to undergo evaluation and treatment for alcohol and substance abuse as well as anger management.
Wibergh came before Chief Judge Paul R. Dunkelman of the 5th Judicial District Wednesday morning in handcuffs, ready to receive his sentence, but he did not come alone.
Approximately 20 letters of support for Wibergh were submitted to the court by family, friends and former employers, Dunkelman said. Many of them sat at the back of the courtroom Wednesday, and a few even came before the judge to speak on Wibergh’s behalf.
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“They represent the broad scope of support that is there for him,” Wibergh’s father, Albert Wibergh, said, motioning to the people at the back of the room.
“If they didn’t care for him and believe in his value to the community, they wouldn’t be here today to show that support, nor would I,” he said.
While well-intended, this showing of support impeded court proceedings as community members applauded and made comments at inappropriate times in the proceedings, Dunkelman said. He advised the group multiple times to be quiet unless speaking at the podium and ended the appearance by asking them to be respectful of the victim in the case.
Wibergh never denied stabbing fellow Vail resident Jeffrey Bell at Buffehr Creek Park on Aug. 22, 2020, but he and his attorney argued that he was forced to defend himself.
Jeffrey Bell, on the other hand, maintained that Wibergh was the aggressor the whole time, testifying in trial that he was scared for his life and the life of his dog. An interaction between Wibergh and Bell’s dog started the dispute between the two men that day.
“This is a case that is obviously a somewhat unique case in the impact that it had in a community, maybe even a micro-community, in Vail,” Dunkelman said, saying that the support from the community was both a negative and a positive thing.
“You can support who you want to support and allow everyone to move forward,” he said. “I understand it’s sort of a little enclave up there, and everybody knows everybody, but allow this whole community to move forward. Allow Mr. Bell, allow Mr. Wibergh, allow yourselves to move forward.”
Bell, who now lives out of state, joined the sentencing hearing remotely on Wednesday to say that he wished the whole thing had never happened and was “ready for some accountability” as he “would like to move on with (his) life.”
He could be seen shaking his head asDunkelman handed down the sentence of supervised probation to a smattering of applause from the back of the room.
“I know Brian as none other than a respectable friend and employee,” a former employer of Wibergh said. “He has a full-time job with people (who) love and respect him and want him back as soon as possible.”
Wibergh’s pastor also spoke Wednesday, calling him “a man of cheer and integrity and joy” who comes to church every Sunday, sits in the front row and stays after to greet other members of the congregation.
Perhaps the most notable of supporters was Vail Town Council Member Kevin Foley who, like everyone else, advocated for probation over prison time for Wibergh.
Deputy District Attorney Johnny Lombardi said that likely none of this support has come from people who know what it is like to be stabbed.
Lombardi pointed to Wibergh’s history of drug use and the near-life-threatening nature of Bell’s injury as reasons why probation was not the right choice for Wibergh.
“Violence is not acceptable, especially in the community, in a dog park, where there were children around,” Lombardi said. “Violence is not acceptable in any form.”
At the end of the hearing, Wibergh stood up and addressed Dunkelman, apologizing for what happened that day.
“I definitely look forward to the opportunity, whenever that may be, to return to the community and try to be a positive contributor to that neighborhood and community,” Wibergh said. “Your honor, I hope you know that I’ll do everything in my power never to be here in front of you again.”
Dunkelman warned Wibergh that he will be looking at significant prison time if he violates the terms of his probation.
Wibergh will be required to serve out the rest of his 90-day jail sentence. He will also likely have to pay restitution for the physical harm he caused Bell, but the amount of that restitution may not be decided until a hearing Jan. 31.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org